LE BOURGET, France — Boeing executives apologized Monday to airlines and families of victims of 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, as the U.S. plane maker struggles to regain the trust of regulators, pilots and the global traveling public.
Some victims’ families welcomed Boeing’s gesture. Others called it too little, too late.
Boeing was in a visibly contrite mood at the opening of the Paris Air Show, where safety was on many minds as the global aviation elite gathered to showcase and trade cutting-edge, costly technology.
“We are very sorry for the loss of lives” in the Lion Air crash in October and Ethiopian Airlines crash in March, Kevin McAllister, CEO of Boeing’s commercial aircraft, told reporters. A total of 346 people were killed in the disasters.
Boeing executives defended improvements to Max software that has been implicated in the crashes, but couldn’t predict when the plane could fly again.
Investigations are underway into what happened, though it’s known that angle-measuring sensors in both planes malfunctioned, alerting anti-stall software to push the noses of the planes down. The pilots were unable to take back control of the planes.
Boeing Acknowledges Botched Communication
“Now they have apologized,” said Ningsi Ayorbaba, a mother of three whose husband Paul Ferdinand Ayorbaba was killed in the Lion Air crash. “I hope this is a good signal” for families like hers that have filed lawsuits against Boeing.
Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry spokesman, Hengki Angkasawan, said his government needs “transparent work of the aircraft maker to fix the problem.”
Boeing has acknowledged botched communication with regulators over a cockpit warning system in the 737 Max, and is promising more transparency about its promised fix.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said only that Boeing’s apology “is consistent with our opinion.”
The Max is crucial to Boeing’s future. It is the newest version of Boeing’s best-selling plane, and was a direct response to Airbus’ fuel-efficient A320neo. Customers like the fuel efficiency because it saves money and helps them respond to growing public and regulatory pressure to reduce emissions. But Airbus has outpaced Boeing in selling planes in this category.
New Challenge for Boeing
In addition to safety concerns, the global economic slowdown and trade tensions are weighing on the mood at the air show.
Boeing announced only lackluster orders at the start of the show, while rival Airbus announced a bevy of new sales and launched a new long-range single-aisle jet, beating Boeing to a market that both aviation giants predict will grow.
In the biggest new plane announcement expected at Le Bourget, Airbus formally launched its long-range A321XLR. The plane should will be ready for customers in 2023 and be able to fly up to 4,700 nautical miles.
Chief salesman Christian Scherer wouldn’t say how much the plane would cost to develop.