European plane maker Airbus was humbled by the incident involving its rival Boeing on January 5 when a door panel blew off one of the US manufacturer's 737 Max 9 jets in the midst of an Alaska Airlines flight.
“With our competitor and with the rest of the industry, we share the objective of safe flight, safe mode of transportation for aviation, so it's never good when an incident happens, whatever the type of plane,” Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus, said on Monday at the World Governments Summit in Dubai.
“This incident makes us very humble. We're just thinking again and again and again what should we be doing not to be in that situation? Are we well-protected from events? The less accidents we see, the less acceptable each and every single accident. So the bar is constantly being raised and that's good, that's for the safety of passengers.”
Asked if there were changes at Airbus that can be made in response to such incidents, Mr Faury said: “We're always challenging ourselves on what we do, on what we don't do and what we should be doing differently to try to get better.
“And we take learnings from everywhere, from mishaps, from what's happening in other industries, innovation, discussions with regulators, the trends in the industry, and digitalisation and what it enables.”
Airbus is always reviewing its actions, he said, pointing to the role of corporate governance, management discussions with the board and consultations with experts outside the industry.
This is particularly important amid a “very fast-changing world” that is volatile, unpredictable, complex and vigorous.
“Therefore, you need to constantly be reviewing what you're doing and challenging yourself,” Mr Faury said.
The Alaska Airlines incident has become the biggest crisis for Boeing since the entire global fleet of its Max jets was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes.
Boeing's recovery from the latest incident will take years as the US plane maker seeks to rebuild its reputation, regain the confidence of regulators and airlines, and put an end to the production glitches plaguing its commercial aircraft unit, analysts say.
It must become laser-focused on tightening quality control, improving safety checks and design, investing more heavily in training, overhauling its corporate culture and ensuring stricter supervision, they said.
The fuel-saving Boeing 737 Max, launched in 2011, competes with the Airbus A320 Neo, which was launched in 2010.
The world's two largest plane makers have seen increasing demand for the workhorse jets, which has culminated in competition for market share, long wait-times for jet delivery and pressure on production to meet the boom in travel demand.
Aircraft manufacturing duopoly
There are currently about 10,200 Boeing passenger jets in service globally, representing about 42 per cent of the global jet fleet, compared to about 10,900 Airbus passenger aircraft, Cirium said.
“Whilst there is clearly negative reputational impact on the Boeing brand from the latest issue, it is also clear that airlines retain faith in operation of the wider Boeing fleet,” Rob Morris, global head of consultancy, Ascend by Cirium, told The National.
Boeing's road to recovery “is clearly to make a promise to ensure no further future quality issues occur, and then deliver on that promise by returning to the pre-2019 performance and track record of delivery”.
Meanwhile, Airbus is grappling with its own production problems. It is facing a major headache due to a problem with engines built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of RTX. Hundreds of Airbus 320neo jets must be inspected between 2023 and 2026 to check for engine components made with contaminated metal powder that could fail prematurely.
This is expected to result in a rolling average of 350 aircraft parked at any one time through 2026, equivalent to about 2 per cent of the global single-aisle fleet, Cirium said.
Mr Morris said Airbus is “not well placed to benefit” from Boeing's latest setback as its order backlog is full for several years to come so there are no early slots to offer airlines who wish to switch from Boeing to Airbus due to its latest woes.