Boeing plans a quiet comeback for 737 Max as grounding nears end

BOEING Co is planning a comeback for the 737 Max, the grounded jetliner that has spent almost two years in controversy and tragedy after two fatal crashes, reports London's Air Cargo News

15 October 2020 - 19:00

BOEING Co is planning a comeback for the 737 Max, the grounded jetliner that has spent almost two years in controversy and tragedy after two fatal crashes, reports London's Air Cargo News.

Amid the report, there won't be an advertising blitz touting the return of Boeing's best selling jet from a global flying ban.

Boeing also announced plans to fly a rented Max festooned with its corporate logo to impress customers and journalists.

After the public scolding by the US Federal Aviation Adminstration (F) and private criticism from airlines over their handling of the Max crisis, Boeing is hoping to do a more muted approach.

Boeing is also leaning on the F so pilots and airlines can assure travellers that the new Max is safe to fly. F Administrator Steve Dickson, a licensed 737 pilot, plans to do that message by flying a Max himself.

'They need to put their heads down, be disciplined and start racking up safe flight hours. They dug a hole, they have to fill the hole and then they have to rise above the hole,' said head of a crisis-response firm in Austin, Texas, Jeff Eller.

Mr Eller is highlighting the importance of the less-is-more strategy that originally helped Firestone emerge from scandal in the early 2000s. Mr Eller advised the company when it responded to accidents involving Ford Motor Co's Explorer that killed 271 people and caused the largest tire recall in US history.

'The lead of global regulators on the rigorous process they have laid out for certifying the 737 Max to return it safely to commercial service. We also are working to provide all necessary support to our customers around the world as they plan a safe and smooth return to service,' said a Boeing spokesperson.

Despite all of this, most travellers can't tell a Boeing aircraft from an Airbus SE plane. Still, when jet's brand has been as badly damaged as the Max's, airlines have to walk a fine line between being upfront and alarming travellers.

'If you have to answer people's questions, answer them,' said aviation consultant Robert Mann. He worked at American when the company and McDonnell Douglas Corp reintroduced the DC-10 jetliner with little fuss following a 1979 grounding, after authorities linked a crash that killed 273 people to improper maintenance.

In comparison, the max incident flawed engineering assumptions in the design of the plane. The grounding of Boeing's workhorse jetliner sparked worldwide fury at a pillar of US industry.

The main issue had to do with Boeing being slow to apologise and acknowledge mistakes with software linked to the two crashes, which killed 346 people.

The company's self-inflicted damage worsened as crucial information trickled out over months, with family members of the passengers who had died to block the return of Max.

Boeing had a number of consultants provide conflicting advice on crisis management and branding a year ago, with the company hoping they know what to do now.

As public outrage worsened, the US max operators fought back, and Boeing eventually scrapped the effort thinking their message was tone-deaf.

Currently, airlines don't want to reignite the controversy when consumers are less focused on the plan due to Covid concerns.

Today, the campaign begins with F's Mr Dickson, who is working to undo the damage his agency is facing after signing off on the Max's initial design. He promised to fly the jet himself before it's approved for the public.

US airlines are still fine-tuning their plans to reintroduce the Max to their staff and flying public. The grounding is expected to be lifted in the US first.

Southwest Airlines Co, the model's largest operator, said it intends to educate stakeholders once there's a firm date for the aircraft to resume flying.

The carrier is going to hold town halls and road shows, incorporating virtual elements because of the pandemic.

Once the Max is ungrounded by the F, it'll be a few months before it can revenue flights at Southwest. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association plans its own passenger confidence campaign, sidestepping a joint promotional push with the carrier.

United Airlines Holdings Inc is planning to notify customers when they'll be flying on a Max through its website and mobile app.

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