Commentary

Facing Public Relations Crises, Boeing Reportedly Looks For $10B-Plus

Even as it attempts to navigate its way out of multiple public relations issues, Boeing should rename its 737 Max to allay travelers' fears about flying in the aircraft -- which remains grounded by the FAA following two fatal crashes -- according to Steven Udvar-Hazy, the founder and chairman of Air Lease Corp.

“We’ve asked Boeing to get rid of that word Max. I think that word Max should go down in the history books as a bad name for an aircraft,” Udvar-Hazy said at a conference in Dublin, Bloomberg’s Siddharth Philip reports  for MSN Money.

“Since there’s no reference to the Max brand as such in Boeing documentation submitted to regulators, the company can instead simply market the model according to the numeric variant, such as the 737-8 or 737-10, he said. Air Lease is one of the biggest customers for the Max, with about 200 ordered,” Philip continues.

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“The chief executive of another major aircraft lessor, Firoz Tarapore of Dubai Aerospace Enterprises (DAE), told the same conference he was worried he had not seen Boeing ‘addressing in a proactive way’ the issue of customer confidence in the aircraft,” Reuters’ Conor Humphries reports.

The manufacturer, which is reportedly looking to borrow “$10 billion or more” amid the 737 Max crisis, according to CNBC and Reuters, is facing more fundamental corporate communication problems.

“A shareholder-first culture fueled the 737 Max crisis. Now it may keep the aerospace giant from recovering,” reads the subhed over Dan Catchpole’s report  for Fortune.

“Scrutiny from journalists, crash investigators, regulators, Congress, and the Department of Justice has exposed profound flaws in Boeing’s corporate culture  -- shaking its workforce, forcing supplier layoffs, and shattering fliers’ trust,” he writes.

“What’s more, the Max scandal isn’t the only dire threat to Boeing’s trajectory. Well before the crashes, Boeing had struggled to plug a gaping hole in its product lineup between its single-aisle 737 and larger twin-aisle 787 planes. Now, plans to launch an entirely new, ‘clean sheet’ jetliner for this midsize market have been shelved, as the company scrambles to get the Max back in the air.”

The Max’s predecessor, the third-generation Boeing 737NG series, which is flown by hundreds of carriers, had enjoyed a reputation as one of the world’s safest aircraft over the years. 

“The plane family has a record of roughly one event involving a passenger fatality for every 10 million commercial flights, which is the lowest rate among modern aircraft that have flown several years,” Todd Curtis, an aviation safety analyst for the website AirSafe.com,  tells the AP’s Nicolas Van Praet in The [Toronto] Globe And Mail

But “amazingly, Boeing's reputation has managed to hit a new low," said Natalie Kitroeff at The New York Times. "The company released a catastrophically damning trove of documents to congressional investigators last week that included ‘conversations among Boeing pilots and other employees about software issues and other problems with flight simulators’ for the 737 Max, the plane involved in two fatal crashes. Employees distrusted the plane and the training pilots would get to fly it,” The Week reports.

Meanwhile, The New York Times discloses  this morning that Dutch investigators whitewashed some mechanical reasons for a fatal crash in the Netherlands of a predecessor to Boeing’s 737 Max flown by Turkish Airlines in February 2009.

“The Dutch investigators focused blame on the pilots for failing to react properly when an automated system malfunctioned and caused the plane to plummet into a field, killing nine people,” Chris Hamby writes.

 “The fault was hardly the crew’s alone, however. Decisions by Boeing, including risky design choices and faulty safety assessments, also contributed to the accident on the Turkish Airlines flight. But the Dutch Safety Board either excluded or played down criticisms of the manufacturer in its final report after pushback from a team of Americans that included Boeing and federal safety officials, documents and interviews show,” Hamby continues.

Aviation analyst Alex Macheras conducted a Twitter poll on the question: “‘Boeing needs to drop the damaged 737 MAX brand to avoid it undermining the aircraft value,’ says Air Lease boss … Do you agree?’” After 546 votes, with six hours left to weigh in, 75% of respondents had hit the “Yes, rebrand the 737 Max” button early this morning.

One who did not, Shamakaa Savoir, wrote: “I voted to keep the brand so that I could avoid it.” Commenting on that point, Machetes writes, “I’ve spoken to many people who are genuinely concerned that it’ll be difficult to try to avoid flying the Boeing 737 Max should the brand name change (or if it were to have different names at different airlines) -- also risks dragging the ordinary 737NG family into confusion mix.” 

Then again, no less than a very stable genius of a branding expert, Donald J. Trump, tweeted this last April: “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?”

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