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Jan 20, 2020

Boeing told to rename Max to allay concerns once flight resumes

Boeing's new CEO confronts culture in need of change

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Boeing Co. should rename its 737 Max to help deflect travelers’ safety concerns once the grounded jet returns to the skies, according to plane leasing-industry veteran Steven Udvar-Hazy.

The Max brand is damaged following two fatal crashes last year, and there’s no reason for Boeing to retain it, Udvar-Hazy, the founder and chairman of Air Lease Corp., said Monday at a conference in Dublin.

“We’ve asked Boeing to get rid of that word Max,” Udvar-Hazy said. “I think that word Max should go down in the history books as a bad name for an aircraft.”

Since there’s no reference to the Max brand as such in Boeing documentation submitted to regulators, the company can instead simply market the model according to the numeric variant, such as the 737-8 or 737-10, he said. Air Lease is one of the biggest customers for the Max, with about 200 ordered.

Renaming the Max will help address public reluctance to fly on the plane, especially in more superstitious markets, according to Udvar-Hazy. He said airlines are working to understand what sort of customer reluctance or defections to other models and carriers they might face, and for how long.

“Is it going to be for two months, six months, is it going to be different in different parts of the world?” he said. “Will people in the U.S. after a few months forget about the accidents and say, ‘Oh, it’s just another 737?’ Are there going to be parts of the world where people are maybe more superstitious and will take longer for them to erase that stigma?”

Boeing is working with the Federal Aviation Administration and airline regulators around the world to re-certify the plane. Airlines generally expect commercial flights to begin around mid-year.

Boeing’s immediate focus is to return the Max to service and “re-earning” the trust of airlines and travelers, it said in an email.

“We remain open minded to all input from customers and other stakeholders, but have no plans at this time to change the name of the 737 Max,” the company said.

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s former chief executive officer, said in June that he saw no need to drop the Max brand. That was after U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter in April that in Boeing’s shoes he’d rename the plane.

Muilenburg was replaced as CEO by David Calhoun, a General Electric Co. veteran, effective Jan. 13.