Boeing won’t rename Max 737s, CEO tells Aspen crowd |

Boeing won’t rename Max 737s, CEO tells Aspen crowd

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg speaks Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Riccardo Salvi/Aspen Institute

The president and CEO of Boeing said Wednesday the company is passing on President Donald Trump’s advice to rebrand its 737 Max commercial aircraft that crashed twice in six months, killing 346 people.

“We’re not focused on the branding and marketing around the airplane. We’re focused on safety,” Dennis Muilenburg told interviewer Mike Allen, co-founder and executive editor Axios, at the Greenwald Pavillion as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival. “To me, this is not a marketing or branding exercise. I know that’s important, and certainly it affects the public view. The most important thing we can do is ensure safety. And we’re going to stay very focused on that.”

President Trump suggested in April that the company rename the plane. He offered the advice in a tweet, saying, “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?”

Based in Chicago, Boeing is the world’s largest plane-maker but has been reeling over the events of Oct. 29, when a Lion Air flight crash killed 189 people, and a March 10 accident in which an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, killing 157 people.

“These accidents, when they happen — fortunately, airplane accidents don’t happen very often — but when they happen, they’re devastating and they’re defining moments for the company and the industry,” Muilenburg said.

The second crash led to the grounding of nearly 400 Max jets worldwide. Muilenburg acknowledged the impact it has had on commercial air travel.

“The ripple effect to the flying public has been very hard,” he said.

There is no time line for when the aircraft will return, but Muilenburg suggested by the end of the summer.

“We’re now in the process of certification with the FAA and regulators around the world,” he said. “They’ve done simulator certification sessions. As soon as we complete that phase, we’ll schedule a certification flight, and then we’ll get the fleet back up and flying.”

Muilenburg stayed on his message throughout the talk — that Boeing values safety above all else, and its employees are driven to make things right and have been humbled by the experience. Muilenburg said the company has made personnel changes since the crashes, but he would not provide specifics.

“It’s my job, and our management team’s job, to make sure that we are always putting the best talent in the right spots,” he said.

The Max 737’s MCAS flight control software have been blamed as the main culprit for the crashes. MCAS stands for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. The software, Muilenburg explained, “added to the overload of the pilots in both cases, and we know there are some improvements we can make to that software.” The company also must better work with its customer airlines, he said. “We’ll learn from both accidents,” he said. “We’re devastated by what happened. We’re humbled by what happened. But we will, as a result, increase the safety of our planes. We’re very confident that the Max will be one of the safest airplanes to ever fly.”

When Allen asked if Boeing would go down if another 737 Max goes down, Muilenburg replied: “I’m not going to live in fear. We’re certainly going to pay attention to it. I’m very confident in the updates that we’re making to the airplane, that the airplane will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.”

Muilenburg, however, said he does not expect the public to immediately embrace the new Max 737s. Boeing will have to do extensive work with the airlines to regain the public’s trust, he said.

“It will take some time,” Muilenburg said. “As I said earlier, we regret the impact this has had to our airlines’ customers and to the public’s confidence in the airplane. That’s been a real impact, and it will take us time to earn and re-earn the trust of the public.

“Over time confidence will be rebuilt, but it has to be rebuilt because we are flying and flying safely.”