In an unusual move during an airline safety investigation, Alaska Air Group President and Chief Operating Officer Ben Minicucci emailed a statement to employees Wednesday afternoon expressing support for Boeing in what he called “an incredibly difficult time” after two crashes of the 737 MAX 8.
Minicucci’s message starts by declaring that “Our thoughts and sympathies continue to be with those who lost loved ones in the accidents of Ethiopian Airlines this month and Lion Air in October.” It goes on to express solidarity with “our friends, neighbors and partners who work at Boeing.”
“We can only imagine how challenging it must be for their 140,000 employees, over half of which are located in the Puget Sound area, to be grappling with two accidents so close together. I think this is especially true for those working right here near Sea-Tac at the Renton 737 production facility. Like our own employees, they work hard, they care deeply about the communities they serve, and they take pride in their work,” he wrote.
Boeing’s MAX aircraft family has been grounded in the U.S. and worldwide following the crashes, which killed more than 300. Boeing says it is preparing a fix for the MCAS automated flight-control system implicated in the first crash and suspected of involvement in the second.
The Seattle Times reported Sunday that Federal Aviation Administration managers pressed agency engineers to move quickly and delegate more work to Boeing on the plane’s certification, and that Boeing’s analysis of the automated flight-control system contained crucial flaws. Since then, reports of a federal criminal probe have emerged, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao ordered an audit of the process leading to the plane’s certification.
Alaska, which flew an all-Boeing fleet before it absorbed Virgin America and its Airbus jets, is scheduled to receive its first MAX 9 jets in June, and to start flying them in July, Minicucci wrote. Those plans remain in place for now, he indicated: “We will continue to work with Boeing and the FAA to understand the facts related to these accidents. You have my personal commitment that we will follow our Ready, SAFE, Go process and do the right thing.”
His message says the company plans to place advertisements expressing solidarity with Boeing’s workers in local newspapers on Thursday, adding, “The people of Boeing are longstanding partners and they’ve supported Alaska in ways big and small for decades. We want to do the same for them and the many great employees who have made Boeing the company it is today.”