Boeing does not owe the public, including its shareholders, an immediate explanation for what happened to an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 that crashed after takeoff yesterday, killing everyone onboard. But it would be wise to address the issue in a more tactful way.
Thus far, Boeing has only released a general statement on the crash that can be charitably termed cautious:
Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
We can assume its entire legal department carefully weighed every single word of this statement in a way to avoid even the slightest hint of fault. That’s their job, of course, and it may well be that Boeing is the innocent party here.
But Boeing has a problem on its hands. Besides the fact that the commonality of the two crashes is alarming, the 737 MAX includes a new flight control system that seeks to auto-correct when sensors perceive a stall. That correction includes pushing the nose of the aircraft down to circumvent an anticipated stall. The technology is unique to the 737 MAX and caught many pilots, including for U.S. airlines like Southwest and United, off guard. For whatever reason, Boeing did not originally detail this change in safety manuals.
After the Lion Air crash, Boeing quickly issued an update to its pilot procedure guide for the 737 MAX:
— The FAA (@FAANews) November 7, 2018
While that update may simply have been out of an abundance of caution, people are talking about it. People are speculating about it…fears are rising. And when Boeing doesn’t address it, people become suspicious.
What Boeing Should Say
Instead of simply expressing condolences about the crash, Boeing would be wise to emphasize four things to the public:
- Safety is paramount.
- Boeing will not rest until it gets to the bottom of what happened.
- Under no circumstance would Boeing ever jeopardize the risk of the flying public.
- Boeing will redouble efforts to ensure that pilots understand the updated technology on the 737 MAX.
Maybe it is just me, but that would send a far more calming signal than stating simply Boeing will send a technical team to help investigate. Boeing needs a Checkers speech…
As I wrote about earlier, the worst thing we can do now is to engage in fear-mongering speculation that fails to draw us closer to the truth. I have a hunch about what happened…and I am certainly not going to share it here. As if I am a technical expert…
But Boeing should better understand the public mood. I certainly sense it as a daily writer on aviation. Boeing must be proactive and not reactive whether there is a design flaw or not on the 737 MAX.
Are you happy with Boeing’s response to the Ethiopian Airlines crash?