Dennis Muilenberg and Guillaume Faury may be the fiercest of rivals in the aviation industry, but they are of one mind when it comes to safety.
Both believe that safety is at the heart of the companies they lead, Boeing and Airbus, respectively.
Airbus CEO Faury dismissed any notion that the European consortium is benefitting from the crisis that Boeing is currently facing with the grounding of its B737 MAX after two crashes.
“Safety is paramount in this industry,” Faury stressed to journalists and analysts during an Airbus event in Toulouse in May. Trust of the people and passengers is very important.”
In two public statements made on 19 March and 4 April, Boeing CEO Muilenburg mentioned the words “safe”, “safely”, “safest” and “safety” 16 times as he sought to regain the trust and confidence of customers and the flying public.
Although Muilenburg has vowed to restore faith in the B737 MAX and indeed, in Boeing, serious damage has been done to the company’s reputation.
Given the fatalities involved in the two crashes involving the MAX – Lion Air flight JT610 (189 dead) and Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 (157 dead) – Muilenburg’s words came too little, too late.
When questioned by the media following the two tragic incidents, if we had any doubts about the airworthiness of the B737 MAX, we had no hesitation replying in the negative.
Here is our interview with a South Korean radio station the day after Lion Air’s MAX crashed into the Java Sea.
Our mistake then was to believe Boeing didn’t know there was an issue with its MAX planes.
The reality, which emerged quickly after the Ethiopian Airlines ET302 mishap, was that Boeing had bungled. Big time.
The pilots of the ill-fated Lion Air JT610 were not even aware that the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) – designed to improve the aircraft’s handling – existed in the first place.
The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and several international media outlets have been scathing in their reporting and made withering criticisms of Boeing’s core values – integrity and safety.
Indeed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said recently during its AGM in Seoul the B737 MAX is unlikely to return to service until August this year.
Many would not be surprised if it extends beyond August.
Airbus at 50
Meanwhile over in Toulouse, where 51-year-old Faury is now into his third month in the role of chief executive, the mood while upbeat is measured and percipient.
Unlike Muilenburg, who has over 30 years aviation experience under his belt, Faury had previously worked at Airbus Helicopters and Peugeot, the French automotive company.
But Faury’s task is no less challenging: to steer Airbus into the next decade by crafting a new strategy in a constantly changing global aviation landscape and to ensure all its aircraft models, including the recently-acquired A220 (formerly Bombardier C-Series), fully penetrate the world’s fastest-growing market – Asia.
Airbus pulled out all the stops last month to formally introduce its new management team to the international media.
The folks at Toulouse went to great lengths engaging the aviation community about developments in its R&D, updates on its aircraft portfolio and emphasising its raison d’être.
Communications is one area where Airbus has done exceedingly well; it is far, far superior to its competitor in Seattle.
Airbus is 50 this year and despite being less than half Boeing’s age (formed on 15 July, 1916), the European consortium has matched and even surpassed the US company in many segments of the business.
Whatever the politics, the aviation industry will continue (for now) to be dominated by Boeing and Airbus and the healthy duopoly will continue.
Boeing will no doubt emerge from the MAX debacle with better and stronger products but hopefully without the haughtiness, as it will likely endure more pain in the near-term.