The 737 Max, Boeing’s bestselling aircraft, has been grounded worldwide since March, following the deaths of 346 people in two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. With the manufacturer seeming slow to develop a coherent strategy for crisis management, the airlines themselves – among them Emirates – have stepped up.
Speaking at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Seoul, which has been dominated by conversations about the fate of the 737 Max, Emirates president Tim Clark expects the plane to be grounded until December because of a lack of co-operation among regulators. Boeing insists that it will not allow the 737 Max to fly unless it is absolutely safe but, as Mr Clark said, the company should be working more productively with regulators, rather than agitating to return to the skies. Given that Flydubai, a sister company of Emirates, is the world's second largest Max customer, Mr Clark's words are reassuring. Passenger safety comes first and the caution displayed by Emirates is an example for the industry.
In July 2014, at the height of the ISIS threat, Mr Clark announced that Emirates planes would stop flying over Iraq, to avoid becoming targets for surface-to-air missiles. It followed evidence that the extremist group had acquired weapons capable of shooting down planes flying at 30,000 feet. Most carriers followed suit, demonstrating both the prudence of the decision and Mr Clark’s influence within the industry. Again, Emirates is urging caution over the return of the 737 Max, amid a fragmented response by Boeing and industry regulators.
For Boeing, this crisis continues to worsen. On Sunday, US aviation regulators instructed airlines to inspect other 737s after identifying a wing problem. Boeing is preparing to roll out more software fixes but the company's response has failed to reassure many, including Ethiopian Airlines, which said it would be the last operator to return the 737 Max to service. A recent Barclays survey found that 44 per cent of passengers said they would wait a year before flying on a 737 Max. It is reassuring that airlines understand the way their customers think and are taking appropriate action.