After the crash: Boeing is trying to recover

Boeing brings 100 years of history to its fight to restore its reputation.


Boeing 737
Boeing 737

Boeing's bestselling jetliner, the 737 Max, has crashed twice in six months — the Lion Air disaster in October and the Ethiopian Airlines crash this month. Nearly 350 people have been killed, and the model of plane has been grounded indefinitely as investigations are underway.

Boeing has maintained the planes are safe. But trust — from the public, from airlines, from pilots and regulators — has been shaken.

So far, experts say Boeing has mishandled this crisis but that it has the opportunity to win back confidence in the future.

Boeing bet heavily on the Max. The plane was designed to compete with a fuel-efficient jetliner from rival Airbus, and analysts have estimated it is responsible for nearly a third to 40 percent of Boeing's profits.

Reporting from The Seattle Times suggests Boeing's urgency to get the plane to market pressured the Federal Aviation Administration, which may have contributed to lax oversight on safety. Boeing disputes this.

But many people are raising questions about how cozy the manufacturer is with the FAA and how committed the company has been to protecting safety.

"I think that Boeing currently is flunking the 'can-we-trust-you test,' " says Sandra Sucher, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School.

Trust includes multiple dimensions, she says: trusting a company to be competent, to be motivated to do the right thing, to use fair methods to achieve its goals, and to hold itself accountable when things go wrong. On every level, by her reckoning, Boeing is falling short.

It's possible to win back that trust, she says — but only if the company holds itself accountable.