Commentary

Questions Will Abound For Boeing As New 737 Max Charges Emerge

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg will face shareholders and the press in Chicago this morning even as troubling new details about what the company knew in advance about problems with the warning system on its 737 MAX jets emerged in headlines over the weekend.

“Boeing Co. didn’t tell Southwest Airlines Co. and other carriers when they began flying its 737 MAX jets that a safety feature found on earlier models that warns pilots about malfunctioning sensors had been deactivated, according to government and industry officials,” reports Andy Pasztor for the Wall Street Journal.

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“Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors and supervisors responsible for monitoring Southwest, the largest 737 MAX customer, also were unaware of the change, the officials said,” he continues.  “The alerts inform pilots whether a sensor known as an ‘angle-of-attack vane’ is transmitting errant data about the pitch of a plane’s nose. Accident investigators have linked such bad data to the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash in March and the Lion Air crash last year; both planes lacked the alert system.”

The FAA did not comment on the story. 

“In a statement Sunday, Southwest said that the safety feature was ‘depicted to us by Boeing as operable on all Max aircraft.’ Only after a Lion Air 737 Max crashed in Indonesia last Oct. 29 did Boeing say the feature wasn’t turned on, Southwest said,” the AP reports.

“The Max was grounded after a second crash, involving an Ethiopian Airlines jet, on March 10. In response to the Journal story, Boeing said that as the Max planes return to service ‘all customers will have the AOA disagree alert as standard.’”

Meanwhile, “battling the biggest crisis of his tenure, Muilenburg will try to bolster investor confidence in the manufacturer’s future as well as that of its fastest-selling airplane” when he holds his first press conference since the grounding after the general annual shareholder meeting that starts at 10.00 a.m. EDT, Reuters’ Tracy Rucinski writes.

"Muilenburg is used to presiding over sleepy annual meetings … basking in the glow of a soaring share price. This year, the aerospace giant’s CEO can expect a grilling from investors and reporters. Outside the Chicago gathering, protesters are expected to rebuke the company for a safety crisis that has engulfed the best-selling jet of the world’s largest planemaker,” including a story broken by CNN’s Drew Griffin Saturday, Bloomberg’s Julie Johnsson writes.

“The day after Ethiopia's minister of transportation released a preliminary crash report on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, four Boeing employees called a Federal Aviation Administration whistleblower hotline that allows employees and the public to report aviation safety issues,” Griffin writes.

The FAA tells CNN it received the four hotline submissions on April 5, and it may be opening up an entirely new investigative angle into what went wrong in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max commercial airliners…,” he continues. “Among the complaints is a previously unreported issue involving damage to the wiring of the angle of attack sensor by a foreign object, according to the source.”

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose niece was killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and whose family is suing Boeing, published an open letter to Muilenburg late last week that references a series of press reports about Boeing putting financial gain above safety concerns.

“Your mismanagement is replete with documentation, including your obsession with shareholder value and executive compensation. There is no need to wait for some long-drawn out, redundant inquiry. Management was criminally negligent, 346 lives of passengers and crew were lost. You and your team should forfeit your compensation and should resign forthwith,” he concludes.

You may have missed that self-proclaimed master-brander Donald Trump offered some advice to Boeing in a tweet a couple of weeks ago: “What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.

“No product has suffered like this one. But again, what the hell do I know?”

Michael Schein preemptively answered that question for Forbes last year in a piece titled “Trump Fails At Everything. So Why Does He Always End Up On Top?” He documented how Trump has used hype to build “an empire on third-rate products and broken promises.” 

That’s clearly not an option for Boeing.

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