Boeing CEO says company is working to regain public trust following deadly 737 Max crashes

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Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg speaks during their annual shareholders meeting at the Field Museum on April 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jim Young-Pool | Getty Images

Boeing has to regain the public’s trust that was hurt by two fatal crashes of 737 Max planes since October, the manufacturer’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg said Wednesday.

Aviation authorities across the world grounded Boeing’s 737 Max planes in mid-March following a crash of one of the aircraft in Ethiopia that occurred less than five months after a similar deadly accident in Indonesia. The crashes killed a total of 346 people.

Investigators have implicated an automated flight control system in both crashes. It was triggered by erroneous sensor data that pushed the nose of the planes down repeatedly into a deadly plunge.

“We know … that the public’s confidence has been hurt by these accidents and that we have work to do to earn and re-earn the trust of the flying public and we will do that,” Muilenburg told an investor conference in New York. “We are taking all actions necessary to make sure that accidents like those two … never happened again.”

Boeing’s stock is down about 16% since the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash that triggered the worldwide grounding.

Public confidence is a challenge not just for Boeing but for its customers: airlines. In the U.S., American, United and Southwest have more than 70 of the planes in their fleets, combined, and have canceled thousands of flights during the peak summer travel season as the Max remains grounded. United and Southwest executives have said they will not charge passengers booked on the Max date-change or fare differences if they choose to switch to a flight operated by another plane.

Boeing has completed a software change to make the questioned automated system, known as MCAS, less powerful and give pilots greater control. The FAA and other countries’ aviation authorities plan to review the changes, along with updated pilot training material, before the jets can fly again.

Boeing and the FAA are under fire over the regulator’s approval process for the jets, which included outsourcing some functions to Boeing employees, which is allowed under FAA regulations.

The FAA last week hosted aviation officials from more than 30 countries to review where things stand in Boeing’s recertification process. Acting FAA chief, Daniel Elwell, said it had no solid timeline to allow the jets to return to the the skies.

Boeing has a backlog of about 4,400 orders for its popular 737 Max planes. After the grounding, it paused deliveries and cut production from 52 a month to 42.

The company, which has been storing undelivered aircraft at its facilities in Washington state and in San Antonio, Texas, will likely ramp up production. Muilenburg said long-term demand means a 737 Max production rate of 57 a month “could make sense.”

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