For decades, America’s leading aircraft maker was so revered by flyers and employees that it inspired a bumper sticker: “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going.”
Now, Boeing’s problems with the 737 Max have fanned speculation that travelers may fear flying aboard the jetliner even when regulators lift the order grounding it.
With that day likely months away, Boeing has stopped building the jet. The aerospace giant remains hobbled by continued revelations, including internal memos exposing a culture focused on evading regulators at the cost of safety and reliability.
Into the crisis steps a new leader: David Calhoun, who started as CEO this week. Boeing’s board ousted his predecessor, Dennis Muilenburg, at year’s end as the 737 Max debacle continued to spin out of control.
Calhoun has set his sights firmly on fixing the 737 Max.
“This must be our primary focus,” he wrote Monday in an email to employees. “This includes following the lead of our regulators and working with them to ensure they’re completely satisfied with the airplane and our work.”
The 737 Max is only the start. These days, Boeing, whose storied history has included such famous planes as the B-17 bomber and 747 jumbo jet, seems to only suffer setbacks. Last month, for instance, its Starliner astronaut capsule failed to reach the proper orbit on an unmanned test flight.
That capped a year of embarrassments, including the Air Force’s decision to suspend deliveries of the new KC-46 air tanker after finding manufacturing debris that had been left aboard.
But those issues pale compared with the nightmare that is the 737 Max jetliner, grounded worldwide since March after crashes involving Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights.
Ever since the Max was grounded lastMarch, Boeing kept offering rosy predictions for its imminent return even as airlines kept pushing back the date on their schedules. On Tuesday, one of the model’s largest operators, American Airlines, said it now doesn’t expect it back before June.
Some observers think it could take longer.
“It’s hard to put a time frame on it,” said Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “If it requires (pilot) retraining or more extensive evaluation around the world, it could be the end of the year.”
Others have just given up making predictions.
“We put our calendars in the drawer and took our watches off,” said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for American Airlines’ pilot union.