Boeing better learn to respect Ethiopian Airlines and Africa.
One would imagine that the people running a $101-billion Fortune 500 company, also 19th among ‘World’s Most Admired Companies’, would know better.
After the second crash of its 737 MAX 8 in less than five months on March 10, Boeing and by extension US, insulted Ethiopia – and with it – all of Africa.
When the quality of your best product ever is called into question by two fatalities in quick succession, you put on your toughest strategic communications gear and compassion.
The Boeing 737 was conceived in 1964, the same year in which the current CEO of the company Dennis Muilenburg was born.
Since then ‘no other commercial aircraft has been as financially successful as the Boeing 737.
A 737 takes off somewhere in the world every five seconds and there are 1,250 in the sky at any one time’, says a report on www.simpleflying.com. In close second is the Airbus 321.
Why, then, would Boeing treat such a gem with so much recklessness?
Even as the families of the 150 odd victims of the Ethiopian Airlines’ Flight 302 were burying nothing other than soil from the site of the crash, Boeing put its foot right in it: ‘Safety is Boeing’s number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX’.
What a curt and dismissive statement!
Subsequent explanations insinuated that Ethiopian Airlines or its pilot might have been responsible for the deadliest accident involving Africa’s best run airline. The sensible option would have been to ground its evidently problematic fourth generation 737.
This tardiness startled many aviation experts like Zemedeneh Negatu – a native of Ethiopia who knows Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing very well.
Negatu’s bewilderment stemmed from the fact that, as he says, ‘from the day of the crash it was evident that the 737-800 MAX 8 had inherent design problems by Boeing which forced the plane to crash’.
The company only grounded its 737 MAX 8 after world airlines had done so; conceding initiative and moral high ground.
Negatu still cannot comprehend ‘why Boeing took almost a month after the crash to acknowledge its fault (after a loss of $40 billion in its market capitalisation)’.
Muilenburg expressed sorrow ‘for the lives lost in the recent 737 accidents’. He committed to remaining ‘relentlessly focused on safety to ensure tragedies like this never happen again’.
To Ethiopian Airlines, the actions of Boeing amounted to a snub at best and condescension at worst.
The veiled implication that its pilots were not up to the task would have stung what is Boeing’s most loyal customer.
Ethiopian Airlines sports more Boeing aircraft than any other marque in its fleet of 112. In a separate show of brand loyalty in April 2013, Ethiopian Airlines led the resumption of commercial flights on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner – after it had also been benched due to problems with its battery.
Considering how central Ethiopian Airlines is to aviation in Africa and how Africa is the hub of global commercial activity for the next 50 years, Boeing had better learn to respect Ethiopian Airlines and Africa – or it might find itself overtaken by its closest rival, Airbus.
The French competitor of Boeing has been as worthy a challenger to the 737 as anyone can be. After earlier failing to dent the market share of the 737, which had had a two-decade headstart in the market, with its A320, there is now the newer more fuel-efficient version, A321.
Fuel efficiency is a deal breaker in aviation. Benjamin Zhang, writing for Business Insider, highlights that ‘Airbus has sold 14,421 aircraft belonging to the A320-family compared to 15,026 orders for the Boeing 737’ through November 2018. Slip-ups like this could help Airbus catch up faster, unless Boeing shapes up pretty quickly.