Don’t Make Things Worse

The headline in the April 30th edition of the Wall Street Journal business section reads: “Boeing CEO Defends Design of 737MAX”

The first words of the article, by Andrew Tangel and Doug Cameron: “Muilenburg says certification process consistently produces safe planes.”

Next words in the article: “Boeing Co. Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg rejected criticism of how the plane maker designed a 737MAX flight-control system that accident investigators have implicated in two fatal crashes of the jetliner.”

After my two previous missives criticizing several of the mistakes Boeing made that led to the horrific crashes of their planes, (Speak Up and Death By Shortcut) I felt it was only fair to report what their CEO had to say about the matter.

What he had to say displays a stunning arrogance and blindness to the facts before us. Muilenburg just wants us all to know that it wasn’t Boeing’s fault since they produce consistently safe planes and thus the criticism is wrong in spite of accident investigators implicating jetliner systems in the crashes.

Later in the article Muilenburg proceeded to blame the pilots. “In some cases, those procedures were not completely followed” was his response to a question asking about a pilot’s ability to disable the MCAS system–the system that caused the crashes–in an emergency.

That’s a great response for the CEO of one of the world’s most famous companies whose products are flown in by thousands every day. The horrific crashes—we all saw the photos– weren’t our fault. It was that person sitting up front who crashed the airplanes.

To make this even worse, it turns out that Boeing didn’t tell Southwest, the biggest customer of the 737MAX, and the other airlines flying this plane that they had disabled a safety feature found on earlier versions of the 737. The purpose of this now turned-off safety feature? Nothing important. Its role was just to warn pilots about malfunctioning sensors. These sensors just happened to be the ones implicated in the crashes.

Boeing also neglected to tell the FAA safety inspectors and supervisors that the safety feature was turned off.

As attempts to fix the problems and get the airplanes flying again proceed, it has emerged  that the fix is not as simple as first suggested. As the months go by, Boeing has slowed down production of the 737MAX while stockpiling those it has on hand in the hopes that someday someone will buy them.

Since grounding the planes has ended the crashes the story has receded from the news. But in the airline business it’s still a major story that will endure for years. Boeing has lost billions of dollars in revenue and shareholder equity; airlines’ schedules and  profits have been adversely affected as has the flying public. Boeing’s reputation has been severely damaged and for decades this situation will be a business school case study in how not to run an aircraft manufacturing company, or any company.

Airbus, the only competitor to Boeing in the big airplane manufacturing business, is keeping a low profile. Clever them. No need to say anything as Boeing and Muilenburg continue to dig their hole deeper.

How long will it take for people to decide they’ll fly on a 737MAX once (if?) they return to service? Perhaps a better question is what will Boeing decide to rename the plane in the hope that no one notices it’s the same plane with a sexier moniker? Or maybe they’ll tough it out and keep the name as they launch a huge and hugely expensive new marketing campaign: “Trust us. We did it right this time.” Hmmmm, did I hear someone say Wells Fargo?

To rush the 737MAX into service and make a few extra bucks Boeing cut corners, hid critical information, didn’t listen to their engineers, decided no real pilot training was required in spite of initial complaints from pilots, and then blamed the crashes on the pilots.

As you run your own company, always remember the message of the 737MAX. Rushing to make a few bucks sooner can cost you everything in the long term.







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