'I would walk': Would you get on a Boeing 737 Max jet?

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It’s been eight months since Boeing (BA) was forced to ground its 737 Max 8 and 9 planes following two crashes that killed 346 people – and the company appears to still be in crisis mode as it grapples with the fallout.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on 'Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing's 737 MAX' in Washington, Oct. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on 'Aviation Safety and the Future of Boeing's 737 MAX' in Washington, Oct. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Boeing’s chief executive Dennis Muilenberg was recently grilled by a congressional committee, facing questions about the safety and reliability of the plane, and why the company should be trusted. There have been calls for his resignation, and criticism over his pay in the wake of the crashes. Meanwhile, many passengers around the world are concerned about the plane, and debating whether to ever get on one again.

What’s happening?

Boeing was forced to ground its best-selling 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft a few days after an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 passengers and staff on board, the second deadly crash in the span of five months. The same model, flown by Lion Air, crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October killing 189 people.

On each flight, faulty readings from a single sensor caused Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, to automatically push the nose of the planes down.

There are several ongoing investigations by different authorities looking not only into the cause of the crash, but how the aircraft was certified. In October, a panel of international aviation regulators found that Boeing withheld key information about the 737 Max from pilots and regulators, and the Federal Aviation Administration lacked expertise to understand the MCAS system implicated in the crashes.

Boeing said Monday it now expects its grounded 737 Max to resume U.S. commercial service in January. The FAA says it is reviewing Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 Max, and will allow the aircraft to return to service only after it is determined to be safe.

Why there’s a debate?

There are still many outstanding questions surrounding the Boeing 737 Max.

The crashes have raised concerns about the aircraft certification process, Boeing’s role in it and whether the FAA is adequately equipped to handle it.

Above all, passengers are questioning the safety of the jet and whether to trust Boeing going forward.

Passengers weigh in

“I would walk before I was to get on a 737 Max. I would walk. There is no way. The question becomes when issues like this happen, it costs your company huge. So you shouldn’t be cutting corners. And this committee is going to have to do something to stop that from happening.” – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

“(Transport Minister Marc Garneau), it is shameful that you have failed to act to suspend all Canadian flights of this plane, pending absolute and complete confirmation of its safety. This is way too critical a safety issue to assume ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ rather some action and a real decision is required here. Please ban this plane.” – concerned passenger in an email before the plane was grounded, according to documents obtained by the Globe and Mail

On how Boeing has handled the situation

“Right now, Boeing’s situation is more out of control than any plane they might have in the air. Someone needs to grab control of what’s happening... Muilenberg can repeat a million times that safety is their No. 1 priority, and nobody will believe it.” – Gene Grabowski, partner at kGlobal

“I think in terms of the technical aspect, they’re doing fine. This is a fixable problem. But in terms of understanding and communicating what just happened? That hasn’t been so great. And that’s important because a lot of the problem is going to be psychological in terms of public perception.” – Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst and partner with the TealGroup

On what Boeing can do to win passenger confidence back

“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?” – U.S. President Donald J. Trump in a tweet

“They have to have as many demo flights as possible with people on board. That means politicians, regulators, airline executives, media, analysts all happy to go on it. Everybody. This needs to be a very public flight test program. It’s a combination of saying we made mistakes, here’s how we made the mistakes, here’s why we won’t do it again and, by the way, now that we fixed these mistakes, come fly with us.” – Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst and partner with the TealGroup

“Boeing needs to bring pilots to the table and have pilots out there talking about the safety of the plane and their confidence in the plane. When it comes to credibility, used car salesmen and lawmakers are at the bottom, air pilots are somewhere near the top... Boeing is missing the whole idea here that this is a business-to-consumer problem, not a business-to-business problem.” – Gene Grabowski, partner at kGlobal

On Boeing’s relationship with the FAA

“We respect the independent oversight of the FAA and that’s very important to us, from a safety principled standpoint. We have taken a number of internal actions that we think are meaningful as they relate to our own internal reforms on safety... We are committed to strong oversight in the aerospace industry. It’s part of what makes the system safe. We have a shared objective and if there are things we can do to make it better, we will.” – Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg

“It’s absolutely clear that it’s too cozy a relationship with the FAA and your airline... It’s a relationship that didn’t work for the consumers and for your employees that went down in those flights. You and others in your company blamed the deceased pilots and the culture of the countries where the crashes occurred for the accidents. But from what we’ve seen in the last year since the first crash, it appears that Boeing’s own culture is more blameworthy for installing a faulty system that resulted in too many deaths and could have caused more.” – Sen. Tom Udall

“Unfortunately, the problems of the 737’s latest model, the Max 8, show that those responsible for ensuring the safety of our skies have strayed from this successful path, and lives have been unnecessarily placed at risk. The FAA’s oversight of aircraft safety needs to be examined by Congress, which should act to make sure the agency names independent experts to determine the airworthiness of an aircraft.” – James E. Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, in an editorial published in the New York Times

“These aircraft should have been grounded after the Indonesia Max 8 disaster. FAA and Boeing should be held accountable for their decision making process, ie unable to differentiate between human life and safety.” — Yahoo Canada commenter

Analysts on what this means for Boeing

“Boeing currently only has one engineer and one person with a science degree on the 13-member board. This is especially important in a day and age of increased focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) concerns. Risk management, disclosure, and accountability of management and the board are key ESG investor concerns and could weigh on the stock in the wake of this setback.” – Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which lowered Boeing’s price target

“Our working thesis has been that the failures on the 737 MAX development by the company centered on fault-intolerant design compounded by poor assumptions of pilot response. We now have to append that assessment further based on source material provided to Congress and the FAA that reinforces the perception of and heightens the potential of incomplete disclosure, which inherently puts more money/trust & time at stake... We are less concerned with the safety of the 737 MAX following an intensive relook at the overall certification process, but the reality that certification is partially subjective gives us pause to our prior assessment.” – UBS analyst Myles Walton, who downgraded the stock to neutral

– With a file from the Associated Press and Reuters

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