Updated: Jun 9, 2020
In the period between October 2018 and March 2019, The Boeing Company found its reputation at risk of suffering a crisis following two tragic accidents involving its plane brand – the Boeing 737 MAX.
The two accidents – one involving a Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018, and another involving an Ethiopian Airline Flight 302 in March 2019 – precisely occurred 5 months apart. Initially, the accidents were attributed to human mistakes on the plane – pointing towards potential error by pilots navigating the birds. In a media interview in April 2019, the Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg made it clear that,
‘I can tell you with confidence that we understand our planes, we understand how the design was accomplished, how the certification was accomplished and we remain fully confident in the product that we put in the field.’
Following more information coming out, as well as expert analyses of the two accidents, Boeing started shifting its narrative to accepting that the accidents were resultant of an error on its software system known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), installed on the 737 MAX, as part of the plane’s automated functions.
The 737 MAX became one of the sought after brand by renowned airlines in the world. However, the crashing down of Ethiopian Airline Flight 302 was the last straw for Boeing and several airlines to revisit the brand’s suitability for the market. In the following weeks, airlines across the world grounded the 737 MAX brand. Many others that placed orders of the plane’s brand eventually put their orders on hold - affecting the production line and the corporation’s financial revenue. Crises cost corporations financially much as it affects corporation’s reputation and clients’ emotions. These two accidents left Boeing with a US$1 billion damage to its bottom line, and 346 lives lost – delivering sad news to families of those who died, as well as shocking the world over.
Could it be that the plane was rushed into air to counter the Airbus, and keep Boeing competitive on the market?
Much as the corporate brand may not have suffered significant reputational damage, it can be contended that, at this moment, the world is holding its breath as to how Boeing will navigate around the future of the 737 MAX.
How has and how will Boeing move with the 737 MAX brand crisis? The grounding of the planes and shifting the official statement from the initial positioning showed that Boeing is embracing a more empathetic approach. Boeing further set aside funds to support victims of the two accidents. In July 2019, the Chairman, President and CEO said,
‘..the tragic loss of life in both accidents continue to weigh on all of us at Boeing, and we have the utmost sympathy for the loved ones of those on board.’
Boeing has assured the market that the MCAS is now fixed - and is assuring its customers of the safety of the plane. Regardless, it can be vied that Boeing will have trust issues with the 737 MAX brand. Consumer perception of the brand performance, now, is in bad taste. Once the MAX 737 is back in the skies, passengers will surely be curious to know what plane they have been booked on for their trip. Boeing needs to do a lot more than just assuring the market that the software system is fixed.
Would, having the Boeing CEO, flying intercontinental on the 737 MAX recoup the market and passenger trust in the plane brand (once reintroduced)?
Perhaps Boeing need to psychologically phase out the 737 MAX by upgrading and promoting a brand close to it - just may be that could erase the negative perceptions associated with the MAX 737 brand failure. Could a 737 MAX Plus be an ideal reincarnation?