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As the Boeing 737 MAX groundings are set to continue, Boeing has burned many bridges with the crews, airlines and passengers. 
 

For the past few months, the story of the Boeing 737 MAX has put the aviation industry into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Various reports about the lackluster safety standards, cases of conflict of interest and rushed decisions have shaken up the foundations of commercial aviation, once again raising questions amongst the general public whether the standards within the industry are good enough.

But why did the newest member of the Boeing 737 family, which was once advertised as “the best choice for creating the most successful future with improved profitability”, become a headache for Boeing and for operators that is only intensifying as time goes on?

Changing the game

The MAX name has become, arguably, the most talked-about aircraft name for the past couple of years. While at first the aircraft was adored amongst airline CEOs and some have described it as a “gamechanger”, currently, the same executives are getting bombarded with questions about the jet’s safety and resumption of operations.

Nevertheless, Boeing is sticking to its guns. Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of the company, believes that the 737 MAX “will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly”, as it returns to service.

On the other side of the spectrum, the general public has questioned whether the jet is safe to fly even to this day:

 

Passengers, who would only mind the price and comfort when picking their flights, have now become very aware of the aircraft type they might fly on. In May 2019, Southwest Airlines CMO spoke with CNBC and said that the airline will “allow them to fly on a different flight without paying any difference in fare”, if passengers felt nervous flying onboard a 737 MAX.

United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz, has also expressed that the airline will make adjustments if passengers express discomfort boarding a MAX: “If people need any kind of adjustments we will absolutely rebook them”. To reinstate customer confidence, he promised to personally “be on the first flight we [United Airlines – ed. note] fly on the Max aircraft”.

Airlines have no choice here, as they cannot afford to lose even more money if passengers are not willing to board a MAX. For the aircraft to be the “gamechanger”, people need to board a 737.

With social media and the internet, the ability to control the narrative is much more difficult than previously – even so, manufacturers have previously encountered issues of saving an aircraft‘s reputation and getting passengers to travel on it.

Looking back at the past – the DC-10 parallel

During the 1970s, the DC-10 suffered three high profile crashes, two of which were the result of an inherent design flaw with the cargo doors. Following the third crash, when an American Airlines DC-10 crashed on Flight 191 near Chicago, the FAA grounded every single DC-10 within the United States.