December 7, 2018
Lion Air Crash leads to PR stumbling block for Boeing
On 29 October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 was scheduled to fly from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia. However, tragedy hit 13 minutes after take off with the flight crashing in the Java Sea, northeast of Jakarta. None of the passengers or crew on board survived.
The aircraft was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, and the incident was the first major accident involving the 737 MAX and the deadliest involving the 737 aircraft, resulting in both engineering and public relations challenges for Boeing and its executive team.
The high-tech 737 MAX aircraft was rolled out three years ago. In a promotional video, Keith Leverkuhn, the executive overseeing the development of the aircraft, said, “Our mission here is to make sure that there are no surprises, no secrets and that we know exactly how this airplane’s going to operate.”
Facing the most high-profile crisis in the past 20 years, Boeing has been on the defensive. There have been other issues that the company has been confronted with, such as in 2013, due to fire-prone batteries as a result of engineering mistakes, and regulators grounded Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliner fleet worldwide. However, no one was hurt during the fire incidents and the company didn’t face any long-term reputational damage.
Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing, addressed the 737 incident, saying, “We are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, and are working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities.”
In a note Muilenburg released a note to employees last month, he wrote: “Regardless of the outcome, we’re going to learn from this accident and continue to improve our safety record.”
U.S. regulators are working alongside Boeing to release a software fix to eliminate potential hazards related to a feature of the MAX, which includes automated anti-stall flight-control. This is expected to be released soon.
After the incident, Boeing has said it devised the training and manuals for MAX in a process that is consistent with their previous efforts, which aims to give flight crews all the necessary information needed to operate the aircraft safely.
Lion Air’s co-founder has come out and accused Boeing of downplaying the potential engineering hazards of the MAX aircraft and said he was considering canceling a major order of 737 MAX aircrafts.
This week, Boeing’s stock price dropped nearly 5%. The volatility of Boeing’s stock could accelerate PR concerns, with Boeing losing several lucrative contracts if investigators determine this iteration is flawed.
Preliminary reports released by investigators last week determined that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, malfunctioned, resulting in the airliners’ nose being pushed downward over 20 times. The flight was unable to fix the issue, leading to the plane crashing into the water.
However, while the company has acknowledged the MCAS issue, they have refused to concede that it’s a systemic problem.
-5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian