Embattled Boeing may change name of 737 Max jet following fatal crashes

A name change would be a retreat for the plane maker, which has worked hard to capture the imagination of travellers with monikers such as Max and Dreamliner

FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019.  REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo
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Boeing is open to dropping the “Max” branding for its latest 737 jetliner, depending on an assessment of consumer and airline responses to an aircraft name that has been tarnished by two fatal crashes and a three-month grounding.

“I’d say we’re being open-minded to all the input we get,” chief financial officer Greg Smith said. “We’re committed to doing what we need to do to restore it. If that means changing the brand to restore it, then we’ll address that. If it doesn’t, we’ll address whatever is a high priority.”

For now, executives insist they have no immediate plans to drop the Max name for something less associated with tragedy, such as the product numbers that marked earlier generations of the company’s best-selling aircraft. A name change would be a retreat for the plane maker, which has worked hard to capture the imagination of travellers with monikers such as Max and Dreamliner, as the 787 is called.

“Our immediate focus is the safe return of the Max to service and re-earning the trust of airlines and the travelling public,” Boeing said. “We remain open-minded to all input from customers and other stakeholders, but have no plans at this time to change the name of the 737 Max.”

The damage to the company’s own name, as well as its jetliner brands, is just one aspect of the crisis that Boeing teams are managing from a Seattle-area war room. Mr Smith tunes in to daily phone calls with chief executive Dennis Muilenburg and Greg Hyslop, who oversees the aerospace giant’s engineering corps. They have hired outside advisers to help with branding and technical matters, along with crisis-management experts Sard Verbinnen.

If Boeing does change the Max’s branding, it would be following a suggestion made two months ago by US President Donald Trump, who tweeted that the company should “rebrand the plane with a new name”.

While it is up to global regulators to determine when the 737 Max will eventually fly again, Boeing is trying to anticipate and plan for every possible scenario related to the unprecedented grounding, which has triggered one of the worst crises in the plane maker’s century-long history.

The company, based in Chicago, knows that the ultimate success of its effort lies in winning back the confidence of travellers, particularly those skittish about Boeing’s best-selling plane after 346 passengers died in two fatal accidents within a five-month span.

But it’s unfamiliar territory for a company more accustomed to wrangling with airlines, regulators and heads of state.

“How do you talk to that person in seat 17A?” Mr Smith said. “At the end of the day, the Boeing brand is ours.”