Boeing mishandled Ethiopian 737 tragedy

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by Mark Johnson

In the aftermath of of the tragic Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max jet crash last week, communications expert Guy Corbet believes that US aircraft maker Boeing appeared to be trying to win the wrong argument.

"Having watched the dominoes fall around the world, as successive countries decided to ground the Boeing 737 Max, the US finally followed suit.  Two fatal crashes months apart was enough.

Right up until that point, when President Trump and then the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) withdrew support, Boeing had seemed confident that all would be well because the FAA was not mandating further action.

Corbet: Boeing misjudged public feeling

Focus on technical elements rather than human

But while Boeing had focused on explaining the technical argument, it lost the public, more human, one. Though that was supported by the FAA, it could not last.

The popular arguments took hold, among customers, passengers, pilots and governments. Ultimately, it was that, the human reaction and concern that held sway.

Boeing's technical reassurances missed the point. It is all very well to be working closely with the FAA to have the flight control software enhancements ready for April.  But that did not comfort anyone.

From a reputation point of view, they would have done better to get out ahead and put in some sort of firebreak. To be seen to do the right thing. 

Even with an "abundance of caution" they could have made the decision themselves to ground their planes and lead the investigation to find out and resolve what had gone wrong.

Instead, they have ended up in the same place, but with less credibility and authority. Handling a crisis well can enhance an organisation's reputation. They missed that opportunity.

Boeing let the arguments and the agenda get away from them. Instead of shaping events, they were dictated to.

Boeing may be have been making rational choices based on technical evidence they had available, but they were not adequately addressing the public concern.

From now on, they need to be a model of openness in relentlessly exploring what has gone wrong. They need to demonstrate that they have listened to concerns and addressed them.

Because of the accidents, they had a performance issue. Now they have a conduct and performance issue.

They need to be their own harshest critic, in the open, and show that they will do absolutely all that's necessary to put things right.  To fix performance and conduct.

Instead of using legalese to talk about an "abundance of caution" they need to show they are human and talk about what they have learned and what they will do differently."

Guy Corbet is founder and CEO of UK Pr and marketing agency, Corbet Communications

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