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‘Nothing cute going on’: Boeing quashes MAX rebrand rumours

written by Hannah Dowling | December 9, 2020
Boeing 737 MAX 8 lands in Darwin (Image source: Tony Kao)

Boeing chief executive David Calhoun has addressed rumours suggesting that US planemaker is deliberately pivoting away from its notorious 737 ‘MAX’ branding.

Calhoun said during a press conference that the embattled planemaker has no intentions of rebranding the jet, despite its negative associations following two fatal crashes and a near two-year global grounding.

“There is no rebranding going on,” Calhoun said. “There’s nothing cute going on.”

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The industry has been sceptical of a possible rebrand on the MAX for many months, as airlines and the planemaker have both made public attempts to distance themselves from the MAX name.

Calhoun’s comments follow the announcement that Irish budget carrier Ryanair had finalised options for 75 737 MAX jets. 

The deal raised suspicions when its marketing material referred to the aircraft as the “737-8200” – a new ‘high-density’ version of the 737 MAX 8 dubbed by Boeing as the 737 MAX 200.

Further, Boeing won its first 737 MAX order for the year in August, when Polish airline Enter Air agreed to buy up to four jets.

However, like Ryanair, the marketing material used by both the airline and Boeing announcing the deal saw the MAX name as largely absent, opting instead for the aircraft’s more formal name, ‘737-8’.

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This was the first time Boeing failed to use the MAX title in its public correspondence on the aircraft, and sparked rumours that Boeing itself might be opting to rebrand the jet. 

Then, last month, Air Canada went the same route on its public statement revealing its third quarter 2020 results, only referring to the 737-8 with its MAX title in the footnotes.

Air Canada had previously cancelled 11 of its MAX orders, and has now cancelled a further 10 orders.

Additionally, American Airlines has chosen to remove the MAX title from its in-flight safety cards, kept behind every seat, though the MAX name will remain on booking systems.

“We changed the Boeing 737 safety cards to simplify the cards and ensure the correct card is placed on each aircraft,” an American spokeswoman said, confirming the move. 

“This approach is consistent with other fleet types where we do not have different safety cards for sub-fleets.”

Even exiting US President Donald Trump tweeted in April 2019, following the second fatal MAX crash: “I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.”

Industry sources familiar with the branding said last month they believed the name could be phased out over time, as Boeing and airlines alike attempt to distance themselves from the MAX label, and we could see a lot more emphasis placed on the official names of the variants, like “737-7” or “737-8”. 

“You will see the MAX name used less frequently,” one of the sources reportedly told Reuters, while another anticipates it will phased out entirely over the coming years.

“If Boeing’s customers want it dropped, it will be dropped,” a third source said, adding that some key “customers are saying the name MAX is tainted”.

Independent business valuation consultant Brand Finance last year estimated the MAX’s problems had wiped $7.5 billion off the value of Boeing’s corporate image.

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