Boeing may have to rebrand the 737 MAX in the light of its two fatal crashes and possible passenger resistance to flying on the type when it is restored to commercial service, Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker believes.
Speaking at a roundtable on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show June 19, Al Baker said he had full confidence Boeing would find a fix for the system believed to be a factor in the two crashes and that regulators would certify the aircraft again, but passengers could be reluctant to fly the MAX.
Boeing is finalizing changes to the model’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) flight-control law software. Regulators grounded the 380-aircraft global MAX fleet in mid-March, shortly after the second accident, the March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Investigations on the Ethiopian crash and the earlier Indonesian Lion Air crash are still ongoing.
Qatar Airways has a leasing company that ordered 20 MAX 8s; at the time of the global grounding of the MAX fleet in mid-March, three of those had been delivered and placed with Air Italy, in which Qatar Airways has a 49% stake.
“I think Boeing will have to come up with something to re-name this airplane,” Al Baker said.
The Qatar Airways chief also said he would be interested in the Boeing New Midmarket Airplane, if that is launched, for the company’s leasing arm and possibly for the airline. However, Qatar Airways has no interest in the Airbus A321XLR, launched at the Paris Air Show June 17.
“We’re not interested in the XLR. We feel our A321LRs will do a lot of seven-hour missions. We don’t need a single-aisle airplane beyond seven hours, because it becomes very uncomfortable for passengers–unless you’re an LCC. We are not an LCC,” Al Baker said.
On other aircraft issues, he said that new additions to Qatar Airways’ fleet would have a modified, improved Q-Suite business class cabin. The modifications, however, would be in the seat surroundings, not the seat itself.
Al Baker has long expressed an interest in setting up a domestic Indian airline. That interest remains, “but the issue is the bureaucracy. It’s so laborious. Although there’s a government policy [that would allow this], when you want to implement it there’s a lot of obstructions.”
He also said that Qatar Airways would be making a decision “very soon” on whether to leave the oneworld global alliance; Al Baker has complained of hostility from some members.
“We’re still reconsidering. We’ve had requests from our friends in oneworld not to withdraw, but the decision will be made in our best interests, not the best interests of the alliance,” he said.