From there, things just got worse. A second software problem was found, separate from the malfunctioning anti-stall system, as Boeing had to admit that cockpit alerts were not working as originally designed, leading to a strong rebuke from the influential Allied Pilots Association. Other revelations have since followed.
To cap it all, Boeing has been on the receiving end of communications advice from none other than Donald Trump…
So how should Boeing have responded?
Safety is everything for any aircraft manufacturer and Boeing should have been ahead of the game in every aspect of their communications. Rather than initially downplaying the commonality of the accidents after the second crash, denying any safety concerns, they should have acted quickly and grounded the aircraft itself, partnering with global regulators to get to the bottom of the errors in a wholly transparent way. This would have been expensive in the short run, but surely would have ultimately saved money.
The single Chairman and CEO (surely a breach of good corporate governance?), Dennis Muilenburg, should also have led all communication from the start, publicly driving his company’s response and his tone could have been more conciliatory. When he did appear in front of investors and the media, he refused to admit that design flaws in the anti-stall system were responsible for the crashes. Those who run major companies in the US, as is often the case elsewhere, are paid a fortune, and it is at these very moments they earn their keep. On this occasion, he did not.
Boeing has been behind the curve as more unflattering news has emerged, including delayed rectification of the 737 Max design errors, and hubris has been evident throughout, undermining trust and confidence in the company’s brand. Stakeholders, rather than the passengers, seem to have been the priority and that is unforgivable, as well as simply bad business.
Evidence suggests that the public usually moves on from such disasters once the causes have been rectified but Boeing has made this process more difficult and orders have collapsed for the 737 Max, at least for the time being. What is clear is that there will be no second chance for Boeing if another crisis occurs.