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Opinion: I’ll Still Fly the MAX, But It Was Time For A Change
To put it plainly, this year has been one to forget for Boeing. It wasn’t even nine months ago that Ethiopian Airways flight 302 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya tragically fell out of the sky, killing all 157 aboard in what has seemed to become the beginning of the end for the Boeing 737 MAX.
Since then, over the course of less than a year — an almost hilariously mismanaged one — nothing has seemed to go the company’s way. After executives and regulators made the (correct) decision to pull the 737 MAX out of the skies worldwide, it all began to go downhill.
Then Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg made a promise that we’d see the MAX back in the skies “in the coming weeks” just after the crash. When it became clear that was unrealistic, he said we’d see it in a few months.
Boeing continued to move its target until the Federal Aviation Administration actually had to tell them to stop setting deadlines they wouldn’t be able to meet, the regulatory body no longer willing to cut any corners when it comes to the safety of the MAX and bringing the aircraft back into service.
In my eyes, that debacle perfectly exemplifies why it was Muilenburg’s time to go. The biggest issue surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX is trust. The public has to trust that they will be safe in the hands of capable pilots. The pilots have to trust that, even if they are well-trained, their aircraft will still behave in such a way that they can do their job safely and accurately. And beyond the 737 MAX, Boeing needs the trust of airlines, regulators and passengers worldwide if it wants its future aircraft to be met with the same success the MAX saw when it was first announced.
Don’t get me wrong, I would still fly the MAX if it was back in the skies today. Especially given all the increased scrutiny from the tragedies of late 2018 and early 2019, I believe the MAX would quickly become just as safe as any other aircraft, as pilots would be vigorously retrained in order to ensure more lives aren’t lost and more stock prices don’t tumble.
But I’m not most people. Information from Boeing marketing material obtained by the New York Times showed that, as of a worldwide survey conducted on Dec. 9, 53 percent of people would be willing to fly the Boeing 737 MAX. However, 40 percent of people said they would not.
Just imagine that. If you filled a Southwest Boeing 737 MAX, that means 70 passengers onboard would be somewhat uncomfortable flying that plane.
But those statistics help to illustrate just how much people have lost trust in Boeing, in its aircraft and in the people surrounding it. And it is for that reason that I believe Muilenburg had to go. Over the course of the past nine months, a man whose name few typical airline passengers would know has quickly become the face of one of the most prominent struggles a public company has faced in years. And to add to the gravity of the situation, Boeing’s role in the U.S. economy is integral, having comprised half a percent of the country’s total GDP in 2018 and five percent of total exports and manufacturing.
The company and country can’t afford the struggle, and moving on from Muilenburg will hopefully bring a fresh start, or at least a fresh face, to the company.
It remains to be seen how David Calhoun will steer Boeing, much less how he will differ from Muilenburg in that regard. But one small piece of that change that we have seen came just days after Calhoun was announced as the new chief executive when it emerged he had already begun calling airline CEOs, members of congress, regulators, suppliers and others to get the ball rolling again in preparation for his takeover in just a few weeks.
That transparency — or at least the look of it — has been lacking and it just one piece of the puzzle that will hopefully see Calhoun gain more trust and support around the industry.
Calhoun officially takes over Jan. 13, a day that will start a new chapter for the embattled Fortune 500 company. And while I’ll still tip my cap to Dennis Muilenburg for the years of service he put in to lead Boeing to where it was in March, I have higher hopes for the days, months and years ahead of us now.
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