In terms of corporate brand disasters, the unfolding series of problems with Boeing’s new 737 Max plane are right up there with Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol poisonings in 1982.
The initial mystery of seven deaths from random poisonings with Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide was never fully solved.
But Tylenol’s emergency recall of 31 million bottles and free replacement with solid tablets enabled the company to ultimately regain its 35 percent market share.
Boeing does not have that many competitors, but the costs of that software error and groundings mount astronomically every day.
More than 500 of Boeing’s best-selling 737 Maxes are idled worldwide, so many that Boeing is even storing some in employee parking lots near Seattle awaiting computer fixes.
Initially, Boeing hoped to quickly correct the software error that apparently caused two 737’s to dive suddenly and crash, killing 346 in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Investigators suspect a deadly glitch in an automated flight control system designed to help the plane avoid stalling.
Boeing had hoped to install the fixes in all 737 Maxes, get them re-certified starting last week and safely back in the air by early August.
But now the Wall Street Journal reports the Federal Aviation Administration has set no time-frame for any return to service.
Last week an FAA test pilot using a simulator uncovered another software problem within the plane’s original emergency response procedures, not this spring’s fixes.
If confirmed, this problem could require chip or microprocessor replacements within every one of the 500 existing 737 Max, a process potentially taking months.
In a securities filing this week Boeing said it agreed with the FAA findings, adding:
Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and it’s safe return to service.
Te mass groundings have created traveler and airline scheduling nightmares in a peak travel season. United, American and Southwest Airlines have all pulled the 737 Max from flight schedules now through Labor Day.
To mitigate the reduced passenger capacity, carriers have added larger planes as replacements. But United alone, for instance, says it must still cancel 1,900 flights in August. That’s 60 per day.