April 8, 2019, © Leeham News: Boeing’s corporate response to the crash of Lion Air JT610 was initially to blame the pilots of the former and defend the airplanes in that accident and the Ethiopian Airlines ET302 crash.
Neither is surprising in this world of instant lawsuits.
These actions are also in Boeing’s corporate culture.
But in a major shift in corporate tone, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg last Thursday issued a video in which he said Boeing “owns” the MAX accidents. This is very un-Boeing. (It will be interesting, however, to see how Boeing’s legal team responds to the lawsuits.)
I’m reminded of the last time the 737 was involved in two mysterious crashes in which Boeing blamed the pilots in one of them. The causes of the two accidents turned out to be placed squarely on the airplane, however.
In the cases of United Airlines 737-200A Flight 585 and US Air 737-300 Flight 427, crashes three years apart in Colorado Springs and Pittsburgh, the airplanes were on approach for landing. Without warning, the aircraft made a sharp turn and dove into the ground, killing all aboard.
The investigators were stymied and Boeing blamed the US Air pilots. Two years after the US Air crash, an Eastwind Airlines 737-200A experienced a rudder hardover. The incident occurred at cruising altitude and the flight recovered.
A valve controlling the rudder proved to be the causes of the two fatal crashes and the Eastwind incident.
Adair’s book details the investigations and the tests that led to the discovery there was a problem with the value and the airplane itself. It also details Boeing’s corporate stances, blaming the pilots.
So when Boeing initially blamed the pilots of Lion Air, it wasn’t a surprising corporate response. Nor, in fairness, was it especially surprising about Lion Air, which has a bad reputation for safety. The European Union even banned the airline from its skies.
Boeing’s response blaming the Lion Air pilots got all kinds of blow back. It was restrained after the Ethiopian accident, with no fingers pointed to the pilots—at least not directly.
Officials steadfastly stood behind the airplane, even as they began working on a software upgrade shortly after JT610 and right through the ET302 crash and beyond. Nothing was wrong with the design of the MCAS stall recovery system, they said. The upgrade would merely make the system more “robust.” It would make a safe airplane even safer, Boeing said. (One critic noted that a plane is either safe or it isn’t.)
Boeing is limited as to what it can say, under rules of being a party to investigations. This puts it in a difficult position to comment, though it did blame the pilots and defend the airplane. Its corporate lawyers undoubtedly are driving everything that is said. (This is often the case even outside of accidents.)
Muilenburg’s message last week hit the right tone. It’s a refreshing change in Boeing’s usual response. It’s tragic that it’s come under these circumstances.