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Boeing's brand sentiments once again plummet after Alaska Airlines incident

Boeing's brand sentiments once again plummet after Alaska Airlines incident

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Boeing's chief executive officer Dave Calhoun has made his first media appearance since an incident where an Alaska Airlines flight, which was flying a Boeing plane, lost a piece of its fuselage mid-flight, saying that the video left him "devastated" and "emotional".

In an interview with CNBC, Calhoun said that he "took his hat off" to the Alaska Airline team who handled the situation well and ensured that the plane landed safely and without any fatalities. He added that what happened was that a fuselage plug blew out.

Don't miss: Google defends Cathay ad aired on Alaska Airlines news report

Calhoun explained that it was good that the planes were grounded by the authorities and that Boeing has supported authorities at every point as they check all other planes for loose bolts. 

"Now we're in a situation where we have nobody at risk and our job is to understand literally everything that has happened, everything that surrounds that particular fuselage plug and fix it and make sure it can never happen again." he said. 

Calhoun also said in a separate internal all-hands meeting that was recorded, that all he could see when he saw the video was the empty seat next to the hole in the airplane. He said:

I've got kids and grandkids and so do you. This stuff matters. Everything matters, every detail matters.

In the meeting, Calhoun vowed that the company, besides acknowledging the mistake, approach the matter with 100% transparency. 

He said that they plan to work with authorities every step of the way, make sure all procedures are put in place and that inspections are all done to ensure that every plane that moves in the sky is safe. It added that it also has kept up communication with all its customers. 

Moments like this shake them to the bone. Just like it shook me to the bone.

Boeing's response has since been sincere and transparent, according to comms professionals MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to. However, as a major airplane manufacturer, trust is of utmost importance and Boeing will have to work to regain that. 

According to media intelligence firm Truescope, sentiment analysis on Boeing, in relation to the incident, was consistently negative over the last few days.

Interestingly, there was a larger spike in total volume on 9 January following the investigation by United Airlines finding loose bolts and parts on some of its Boeing 737 Max 9s days after the Alaska Airlines incident., it said.

On average, Boeing’s net sentiment score was -34.4% over the last week following the incident.

A Truescope spokesperson highlighted that there were many critical voices expressing concerns over the Boeing aircraft's design and manufacturing, attributing these to cost and time-saving measures, and some questioning the leadership of Boeing's CEO. However, there was also a strong sense of relief that passenger safety was ultimately maintained. 

This incident also highlighted the complexities and challenges faced by the aviation industry, balancing efficiency with the unwavering commitment to safety standards. The feedback, though varied, underscores the importance of continuous improvement and trust in the aerospace sector, Truescope said. 

True enough, a key question is how the firm plans to restore trust as news emerges that more planes such as those from United have loose bolts. 

For a start, the public will be expecting regular and transparent updates on findings after thorough investigations on the 737 Max Program and action steps that Boeing will be taking to address flaws in the programe, according to Sharon Koh, managing director of
Digital Studio by APRW.

"Being able to convince the public that their action steps and new processes will address the issues faced in their 737 Max program will be Boeing’s challenge. The public will need to be convinced that Boeing has left no stone unturned in their rectification plan," she said.  

Koh suggested that perhaps releasing a whitepaper detailing Boeing’s plan and all action steps taken to ensure their entire 737 Max fleets are extremely safe, might help the public feel more secure and assured.

Agreeing with her, Tarun Deo, founder and managing director at Progressive Communications noted that Boeing has long faced operational problems and that there was an already existing public view that things were not great. 

"While I think Boeing's response was good and transparent, what they need to do long term is to fix the operational issues in their company so that they can restore a full level of brand trust. 

Deo was referencing a long-standing spate of issues that the manufacturing company has seen such as MH370 and major crashes such as China Eastern Airlines in 2022 and Ethiopian Airlines in 2019, all of which involved Boeing planes. 

He added that when the operational issues in the company improves, their communications and sentiments generally will improve because they will not have to keep apologising.

He also explained that it is important that Boeing continues to be seen and heard as they take responsibilities. "The last thing any stakeholder wants is no communications," he said, adding that if anything, the incident serves as a reminder to brands that when things aren't going well, you can't run away or disappear from the scene. 

Related articles:
Cathay Pacific's apology and firing of cabin crew members: Will it be enough to weather the PR storm?
How Zara's apology for its controversial campaign 'gaslit' consumers 
Did AirAsia's CEO cross the line with his topless LinkedIn Post?

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