A bad situation turned worse: what can be learned from Boeing

By Jessie Cheveldayoff

On October 29, 2018, I think everyone was shocked when news broke of a Boeing 737 MAX crashing after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crew. A few short months later in March 2019, another 737 MAX crashed in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, killing 157 people and shocking the world again. 

In total, 346 people lost their lives due to, what was later determined, a design fault of the 737 MAX. An eighteen-month long investigation revealed that, in the end, “Boeing’s management prioritized the company’s profitability and stock price over everything else, including passenger safety” (Cassidy, 2020, np). 

At the Crisis Communications Institute we always teach putting public safety over everything, yet, we continue to see far too many instances of businesses and organizations placing profit over human lives. Unfortunately, this tragedy caused by Boeing was no different. 

The Boeing investigation found multiple causes for the crashes (including the design flaw), from poor communication to inadequate training for pilots (Legatt, 2019, np). When it comes to communications, we can see the underlying flaws before and after the first crash; pilots didn’t voice their concerns about the new system, and mechanical issues and warnings were not taken seriously. 

To prevent future crises from happening, Boeing (and other orgs) needs to look at the pre-disaster period. Which areas of communication could have been improved? How could Boeing have encouraged a more open line of communication between employees and management? How could they improve their safety checklists to prevent mechanical issues from being ignored? 

All of the above questions are important when it comes to business management and more importantly, passenger and crew safety. However, we also have to consider Boeing’s crisis response after the first and second crashes. 

Firstly, Boeing’s response was extremely delayed as they issued an apology more than three weeks after the second crash. As soon as the video starts, audiences can clearly see that the CEO is insincere about the situation which instantly makes people distrustful of the company. 

Boeing could have done a much better job of releasing apologies after both crashes that were both timely and sincere in order to calm people’s doubts and fears. Moreover, a better response effort would have been beneficial for the loved ones of victims, to give even the smallest amount of closure. 

This horrific tragedy could have been handled with so much more compassion and empathy, which would have provided guidance for grieving family members of victims. Remember, in order to prevent a bad situation from turning worse, putting people first is always the best option. 

 

References

https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-boeing-and-the-faa-created-the-737-max-catastrophe

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50177788

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/04/04/boeing-ceo-dennis-muilenburg-apologizes-lives-lost-ethiopian-indonesian-plane-crashes/