Will Boeing Rebrand the 737 MAX?

Jul 19, 2019

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The Boeing 737 MAX has arguably become the most infamous commercial passenger jet in recent history. While the Boeing short-haul flagship jet remains grounded worldwide, the public’s fears about the aircraft are at an all-time high following a very public and ongoing crisis with developments that continue to keep the 737 MAX under the spotlight. But will a rebrand be necessary to avoid the ramifications of returning a plane to commercial service that appears to have had its reputation damaged in an irreversible way?

A potential rebrand or renaming of the 737 MAX has been a topic of conversation among industry stakeholders, public figures and even US President Donald Trump.

“If I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name”, tweeted President Trump, following the second deadly 737 MAX accident.

Kenya Airways — a 737 MAX operator — CEO Sebastian Mikosz told media in June that, “Renaming the Boeing 737 MAX will help restore the public’s trust in the aircraft when the global fleet is flying again”. Qatar Airways Group — also a 737 MAX customer, but not operator (Qatar’s ordered 737 MAX jets were transferred to Air Italy, which is 49% owned by Qatar) — CEO Akbar Al Baker echoed Mikosz’s thoughts, saying, “I think Boeing will have to come up with something to re-name this aeroplane”.

While Boeing told media at the Paris Air Show that it would consider changing the name to help the model return to the skies, it seems as though that option is no longer on the table. A spokesperson told TPG UK this week that, “Our immediate focus is the safe return of the MAX to service and re-earning the trust of airlines and the travelling public. We remain open-minded to all input from customers and other stakeholders, but have no plans to change the name of the 737 MAX”.

However, speculation over a 737 MAX rebranding was rife this week when photos surfaced on Twitter showing a Ryanair 737 MAX at the Boeing factory with a new aircraft title painted on the fuselage. The aircraft, due to be delivered to Ryanair once the 737 MAX is certified to return to the skies, displays the designation ‘737-8200’ instead of 737 MAX on the nose.

Photo courtesy of Woodys Aeroimages.

The 737-8200 is not a new name for the jet and is merely the designation for the highest-capacity variant of the 737 MAX 8, which was designed for low-cost carriers looking to squeeze in as many seats as possible. However, the jet was previously referred to as the 737 MAX 200 by Ryanair, as well as by Boeing.

Public opinion on a 737 MAX rebrand is wide-ranging. Recently, in a broadcast on the topic of rebranding the 737 MAX with Al Jazeera anchor Kamahl Santamaria, he admitted, “If I got on a plane called ‘737-greatest-plane-in-the-world’ but I knew it was still a 737 MAX, I’d still feel concerned”. Several viewers took to twitter to agree with Santa Maria, claiming a rebrand would do nothing to settle their concerns over the aircraft. Others disagreed, explaining that given the 737 MAX is under intense scrutiny from the FAA, the jet “will be the safest in the world” to fly on board once it returns to commercial service.

While aircraft have suffered turbulent entries into service in aviation history, has a commercial jet ever rebranded to escape the reputation of a tarnished name?

Commercial air travel’s most similar example to the current 737 MAX crisis is the infamous McDonnell Douglas DC-10, which entered service in 1971 and was plagued by problems from the very beginning. In 1972, a brand-new American Airlines DC-10 had to make an emergency landing in Detroit after losing cabin pressure because the plane’s cargo door blew off mid-flight. Not long after, a Turkish Airlines DC-10 also suffered decompression when its cargo door blew off during the flight. The sheer force of decompression caused the cabin floor to cave in, damaging the flight controls and killing all 346 on board. Some years later, an engine detached from the wing of an American Airlines DC-10 while taking off from Chicago, killing all 271 on board, and resulting in the immediate grounding of all DC-10s worldwide. The manufacturer, McDonnell Douglas replaced the DC-10 with a successor with a new name, the MD-11.

But for Boeing, rebranding the 737 MAX due to bad publicity could still be somewhat unprecedented. The Boeing 727 — still in commercial service today, albeit only with a small number of airlines — suffered four fatal crashes following its entry into service in the mid-1960s. However, passengers continued to fly on 727 jets for the decades that followed, and it remains in service with the same name.

Do you think Boeing should rebrand the 737 MAX?

Featured image courtesy Boeing.

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