Boeing's Mea Culpa Wins Over Operator of Crashed Ethiopian Jet

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co.’s efforts to reassure airlines and passengers that its 737 Max jetliner will make a safe return to service won the support of Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde GebreMariam, whose carrier suffered the fatal crash that led the plane’s grounding.

Ethiopian has “more confidence” in the U.S. manufacturer following its expressions of contrition and admission that it made a mistake in its handling of new systems introduced on the Max, Tewolde said Tuesday at the Paris Air Show. He has met “very frequently” with Boeing managers at the expo, CEO Dennis Muilenburg among them.

Boeing's Mea Culpa Wins Over Operator of Crashed Ethiopian Jet

“They are more transparent and they are on the right track, doing the right things,” Tewolde said in an interview. “I think now that everything is in order. We are working together, so now we have more confidence. That’s good for global aviation.”

His comments signaled improved relations between Boeing and Ethiopian, Africa’s biggest airline, which had deteriorated after the March crash when the manufacturer questioned whether pilots on the flight had followed correct procedures. An official probe subsequently concluded that a new software system pushed the plane toward the ground when an erroneous sensor indicated that the jet was about to stall.

Muilenburg said Sunday that he arrived at the industry’s biggest trade fair “focused on safety” and with “a tone of humility and learning.”

A visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by Boeing’s commercial airplanes chief, Kevin McAllister, was also “helpful,” according to Tewolde. The executive had “wanted to share his condolences for the victims’ families and also for the airline. He came to show his solidarity with us.”

Tewolde said Boeing’s decision not to send a top executive earlier hadn’t been an issue and that such a trip might not have been helpful. “We were very busy anyway.”

McAllister said Monday that his trip had been “a time of intense reflection” personally.

Going Slow

Still, Ethiopian Airlines could be the last operator to return Max to service, reflecting the deep impact of the tragedy -- in which 157 people died -- on the airline and the wider community, Tewolde said.

“It’s nothing else than because we had the accident,” he said. “We are not like the other airlines because we had the actual accident. It takes more to convince our pilots and passengers.”

Tewolde declined to say whether the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the European Aviation Safety Agency and other authorities were doing a good job in investigating the Max’s design and broader safety procedures, saying he wasn’t an expert in regulatory processes.

“It is better if they work together, and they are trying to work together,” the CEO said. “At the end of the day, we want this aeroplane to be 100% safe when it comes back to flying.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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