May 6, 2019, © Leeham News: Boeing has a big job ahead of it to restore faith in the 737 MAX with flight crews and the flying public.
Recertification is still weeks or perhaps months away. The return to service may be anywhere from July to August or even longer, depending on how global regulators proceed with review and approval of the revised MCAS software and pilot training.
Pilots at airlines seem split whether a “simple” computer training protocol is sufficient or whether a flight simulator training is required.
Let’s set all this aside on the safe assumption this will work itself out, whether sooner or later.
So, the question then becomes: how does Boeing repair the MAX brand—and its own.
First, just because the airplane is recertified and returns to service, this doesn’t mean the cloud will dissipate quickly.
Crash investigations typically take 12-18 months to complete. Boeing is clear: it points its finger at the pilots as well as “owning” the narrow responsibility for linking MCAS to a single Angle of Attack sensor.
At the Annual Shareholders Meeting last week, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg denied any flaw whatsoever in MCAS itself. The accident investigations may or may not reveal information that could further taint the airplane.
Lawsuits will periodically put the MAX crashes back in the headlines.
Then there are the investigations by the US Department of Transportation, the DOT’s Inspector General about how Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration certified the airplane, the FBI investigation, one by the Department of Justice and a Grand Jury.
Finally, don’t forget about the politicians in Congress who want a piece of this action.
It’s going to be a long time before the MAX crashes and grounding are out of the news.
There is a crisis in confidence in the MAX and the Boeing brand. I firmly believe both will be overcome. The question is, how long will it take?
There have been several instances over the decades in which commercial airliners were grounded, following which the airplanes went on to serve productively and in which passenger confidence was restored:
Other airplanes didn’t fare as well.
It’s against this backdrop and in an era of hyped social media that the MAX and Boeing must rebuild confidence.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.
While it’s doubtful Boeing will drop the MAX name, it could and simply refer to the airplanes by the numerical designations, the -7, -8, -9 and -10.
Or, it could follow the de Havilland and Lockheed examples and call the airplanes the MAX II. It could follow its own example in the early jet era and adopt the “Advanced” name, as it did with the 727-200A and 737-200A, calling the current 737 the MAX Advanced.
Boeing could, of course, adopt an entirely new name for the 737 MAX.
Rebuilding the Boeing brand will be perhaps more challenging.
The company isn’t about to futz with the Boeing name. The brand has taken a big hit on credibility and its image of safety.
Boeing now faces accusations it designed an airplane with a safety flaw. Boeing denies this, but there is no denying it is fixing MCAS, despite corporate-speak that only an upgrade is being done with the MCAS software.
Articles in The New York Times pointed to several whistleblowers complaining about sloppy work at the Charleston and Everett factories.
The US Air Force twice stopped delivery of the KC-46A, based on the commercial 767, due to sloppy work practices.
The MAX is the second Boeing airliner to be grounded since 2013.
Doubts exist in some circles about the efficiency and reliability of the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division.
How does Boeing address all these issues and rebuild confidence in the Boeing brand?
This is a very good question and one for which I don’t have an answer.
But I am sure that over time, confidence will be restored in the MAX and Boeing brands.