Boeing: Late to the reputation recovery party? Or not showing up at all?

Debris field from the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash (March 10, 2019).

It’s been exactly two months since the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 Boeing plane that killed all 157 passengers and crew on board. But as far as Boeing’s PR response is concerned, it might as well never ever happened.

Of course, sticking one’s corporate head in the sand doesn’t make problems go away — and in the case of Boeing, clearly the markets have been listening.

Since the crash, Boeing stock has lost more than $27 billion in market value — or nearly 15% — from its top value of $446 per share.

The problem is, the Ethiopian incident has laid bare stories of whistle blowers and ongoing maintenance issues regarding Boeing planes. But the company seems content to let these stories just hang out there, suspended in the air.

With no focused corporate response of any real coherence, it’s casting even greater doubt in the minds of the air traveling public about the quality and viability of the 737 planes — and Boeing aircraft in general.

Even if just 20% or 25% of the air traveling public ends up having bigger doubts, that would have (and is having) a big impact on the share price of Boeing stock.

And so the cycle of mistrust and reputational damage continues.  What has Boeing actually done in the past few months to reverse the significant market value decline of the company? Whatever the company may or may not be undertaking isn’t having much of an impact on the “narrative” that’s taken shape about Boeing being a company that doesn’t “sweat the small stuff” with proper focus.

For an enterprise of the size and visibility of Boeing, being reactive isn’t a winning PR strategy. Waiting for the next shoe to drop before you develop and launch your response narrative doesn’t cut it, either.

Far from flying below radar, Boeing’s “non-response response” is actually saying something loud and clear. But in its case, “loud and clear” doesn’t seem to be ending up anyplace particularly good for the Boeing brand and the company’s

What are your thoughts about the way Boeing has handled the recent news about its mode 737 aircraft? What do you think could have done better?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

3 thoughts on “Boeing: Late to the reputation recovery party? Or not showing up at all?

  1. Boeing is following a time-tested playbook to deal with the fallout (so to speak) of the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes involving its new 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

    54 years ago, between mid-August and mid-November 1965, three brand-new Boeing 727 tri-jet airliners crashed in the United States, killing a total of 132 people. These accidents occurred during approaches to or landings at Chicago O’Hare (United 389), Cincinnati (American 383) and Salt Lake City (United 227).

    The Boeing 727, which would come to be affectionately known by pilots as the “three holer,” had been introduced in 1964. Like the 737, it was one of Boeing’s most successful passenger aircraft programs. Totally, 1,832 of these aircraft were built of which only 44 remain in service now. In fact the last 727 commercial passenger flight took place in January of this year.

    What made the 727 innovative for its time was mounting three engines at the rear of the aircraft, one on each side of the fuselage and one in the tail cone, instead of two or four engines on the wings. In addition, its design featured an advanced wing flap system which provided extra lift at low speeds, and allowed the plane to descend rapidly and land at smaller airports or airfields situated in densely built-up areas with shorter runways (think New York LaGuardia or Chicago Midway). These innovations allowed airlines to extend fan-jet service to most segments of their domestic networks, and also to shorter-haul international networks overseas.

    Unfortunately, official investigations of the three 1965 Boeing 727 crashes revealed that the pilots involved did not understand the new flap system adequately. As a result, they were descending at speeds which were too high.

    Despite outcries from politicians to ground the 727, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed the plane to keep flying while Boeing changed the flight manual and final approach procedure. Ultimately Boeing righted the ship and recovered its reputation.

    Boeing didn’t shirk its responsibilities back in 1965, nor do I believe it’s shirking its responsibilities now. But the fact remains that, for safety’s sake, incident investigation and aircraft certification (or re-certification) protocols are stringent and obligatory for both aircraft manufacturers and operators. In the case of the 737 MAX 8, remedial action cannot be considered complete until the root causes of the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes are confirmed; but the official investigations of those incidents are still in progress.

    Near-universal compliance with those protocols, in turn, has made flying the safest mode of transportation for many years, and safer today than ever. This, not PR tactics, is ultimately what promotes public trust and drives shareholder value for aircraft manufacturers.

    Boeing knows that its reputation, bottom-line and market capitalization will take a severe hit as a result of the 737 MAX 8 accidents, but it also knows from its experience with the 727 program that these losses can be recovered, eventually, by sticking to a time-tested script. It’s unlikely that PR tactics could reduce the magnitude of those losses over the long haul, and might even make them worse.

  2. “CYA” is all too human. Worse is the engineering mentality which deprives us of any tactile sense of what we are doing.

    I can fly a Piper Cub, but I can’t operate a remote control without frequent and hopeless confusion. Recently, it took me three days to find the parking brake on a VW automobile I rented. It’s a button with a light.

    No wonder pilots feel helpless …

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