Boeing is going to have to do more than apologize to make travelers comfortable with taking the risk of flying on the 737 Max when it returns to service. Travel buyers and managers, too, are unlikely to ignore the risk with their jobs at stake.
Boeing has been on something of an apology tour as the crisis deepens following the crash of two Boeing 737 Max aircraft earlier this year. With no real timetable for the return of the aircraft to service, regaining the trust of the global corporate travel sector is a major issue for the aircraft manufacturer.
At the Global Business Travel Association’s 2019 Convention in Chicago on Monday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg worked hard to assuage corporate travel’s creme de la creme that everything is going to be just fine. Half the audience in the banquet hall, however, headed for the exits as his name was announced.
“Certainly the situation with the Max has been a tough one,” said Muilenburg. “We continue to have deep sympathy for the families and loved ones affected by these two accidents. It has reaffirmed and driven us to continue to focus on safety as a core focus for our company, we are working hard on the Max and making good progress.”
Boeing’s future prospects are somewhat uncertain as the global grounding of the 737 Max series of aircraft continues on. Some consideration has been given to changing the aircraft’s name to avoid future branding problems as the company works to fix the tech flaw that caused the two crashes.
The crisis has also had a major effect on airlines which relied most on the model; American Airlines will retire fewer aircraft, for instance, and some national carriers like Icelandair have been hammered with losses following cancellations.
“We are making software updates to the Max, we have worked our way through that,” said Muilenberg, detailing the efforts Boeing has made to get the plane recertified. “We plan to submit that cert package in September and return to service in the early fourth quarter. The Max will be one of the safest aircraft ever to fly.”
Travel managers, as well, have indicated their travelers are unlikely to fly on the aircraft in the future. Muilenburg assured the audience of travel buyers that everything will be just fine.
“This is a challenging situation and the respect and confidence of the flying public is extremely important to us,” said Muilenburg. “We know trust has been damaged over the past few months and we are working hard to re-earn that trust and rebuild that confidence for the future… I have personally flown on two of [our] flight tests. We know we have work to do and regret the impact it has had on you and the flying public.”
It’s unlikely a scripted chat with Boeing’s CEO will do anything to change the minds of travelers who don’t want to die on their next business trip.
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Photo credit: Dennis Muilenburg, president and chief executive of Boeing, is seen on March 7, 2019. Anna Moneymaker / Bloomberg News