American Airlines flew the Boeing 737 MAX before it was grounded, and ordered 100 of the airplanes. They’re committed to the aircraft’s safe return to flying, and they’ve done polling to understand how customers feel about it today – and what will change their minds so that they’ll accept flying on the plane once it’s back in the sky.
After the airline’s fourth quarter earnings call on Thursday, CEO Doug Parker took a question about the MAX during an employee town hall. He laid out the reasons they know that while opinion is largely negative on the plane today, that will change as the year progresses.
- The FAA re-certifying the plane will change opinion
- So will actual flights operating safely
- And the endorsement of the pilots who take the plane up will instill confidence
American’s polling tells them that seeing U.S. pilots confident behind the controls will give them the confidence they need to fly the aircraft again. And as time goes on concerns will dissipate.
Here’s Parker’s full answer on why passengers will change their minds about the MAX:
Polled today, which a lot of companies are doing including ours, asking people “how do you feel about the MAX?” the results are not good. There’s very high awareness of the issue. And there’s real trepidation about whether they would fly it today or not. So that’s clearly a concern.
…I’ll offer just this. One, all of those polls are being taken today. By the time it actually flies a lot more will happen. Of which I believe will make an enormous difference in that customer sentiment.
First off the airplanes will be – whenever this happens, the problem is we don’t know exactly when but let’s assume that the June 30 date that Boeing is now saying I’m sorry they’re saying mid-year so let’s call mid-year June 30. Let’s say June 30 Boeing has the aircraft certified to fly. We still need to train our pilots so we can’t put it into scheduled service of course without trained pilots. That training we’re now being told will require a full motion simulator. So it’ll take us a couple of months at least to get enough pilots trained to be able to fly putting in service.
But the aircraft’s now certified to fly by the FAA. So that’s the one big thing that’s already happened with much awareness. That’ll be a very big deal when the FAA has decided after this incredible scrutiny that this aircraft is as safe as probably the safest airline to fly because of all the scrutiny it’s gone under.
So them to make that decision will be one big event that happens. Then therell be a couple of months before we can return to customer service flying. We will have some number of pilots trained that are qualified to fly just not enough to put it into service yet. We will look to use that to yet to be determined but certainly a number of things we can do. I’ll fly around, try to get my kids – get my kids to go. Those things, media and things like that, to make sure people see it is flying people are flying it. That’ll make a big difference.
But the real thing that’ll make a difference…American Airlines pilots get in the cockpit and say “I am comfortable flying this aircraft. That’s what matters. ..
Of all the polling we’ve done, yes when asked today how to do you feel “trepidation” When asked a follow on question, pick from this menu of items what would make the most difference to you being comfortable flying including media flying around and me flying around. Those two things pale to two things: one, the FAA saying it’s safe to fly, and yes pilots in the United States being willing to fly, particularly I would argue American Airlines pilots who are the best in the business and people know that.
That’s what’s going to make the diffeence. No amount of rebanding or marketing. And the last thing we’d want to do by the way is do anything to suggest that anyone should have any trepidation about it. Anything like – not that we’ve ever thought about, but I’ve seen suggestions “you’re going to need to give lower fares” that makes no sense. That’s the exact opposite message that needs to be sent. Because this aircraft we stand behind, And the FAA stands behind it. And more importantly the pilot whose flying that, the best pilots in the world who don’t take airplanes up until they know everything about them, they’re comfortable doing it that’s what’s gonna matter.
We’ll try and do what we can. Even after all that some people still may not be ready to fly for some period of time, I suspect it will be short, if they’re not prepared to fly it we will do our best to reaccommodate them. But again that airplane – it’s not our issue with the airplane, the airplane is safe and sound, If someone doesn’t want to choose it, says I’m just not comfortable, we’ll do what we do in those cases. We’ll try to find another flight for you later. ..The airplane’s gonna be so well, by that time I think it’ll be less than an issue and certainly over time it’ll go away as it begins flying.