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Boeing’s Marketing Problem

When we published a survey on the MAX among pilots of the 737 model, most journalists and industry experts we contacted were surprised that we did not believe the MAX brand would ever take to the air again.

Most journalists were taking for granted that a recertified, improved MAX would soon be flying again. It is now clear it may never do so.

Even if it passed muster with the Federal Aviation Authority, how many passengers—and at what price—would board a MAX again? Yes, you guessed.

Wild as it may sound, the MAX may now be as good as scrap metal. And there is no easy solution:

  • If the MAX is deemed unworthy, the cascading costs of such a catastrophic scenario are beyond this author’s imagination, involving indemnity for airlines and massive losses for Boeing.
  • Yet Boeing is “too big to fail”. Sounds familiar? What do you do when, roughly, half the commercial air traffic in the world runs on the airplanes made by Boeing?

These are surely extreme scenarios with no ready-made solutions to address them.

One of the most enduring mysteries of this year is why, and how, did the just-fired Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg managed to hold on to his position. The aircraft maker has suffered the worst crisis in the 103-year-old company following two crashes caused by the MCAS stability device on Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that left 346 dead.

It was high time for Muilenburg to go. Yet Chairman Dave Calhoun has the unenviable task of figuring what to do with a clearly unreliable airplane, or one not many passengers will want to fly, and restoring confidence in the company.