Amid unprecedented crisis, Boeing sales manager shows optimism
Although Boeing has been mired in the worst times, its staff stunned by two fatal crashes and then a global pandemic that has cut air travel like never before, aircraft sales chief Ihssane Mounir last week professed unwavering confidence that the best of times is inside seen again.
âThis pandemic that we are experiencing right now is more dramatic than any other shock the system has suffered, certainly over the past 30 years or so,â Mounir said. “It doesn’t compare to anything we’ve seen in the past, it really doesn’t.”
And following the 737 MAX crashes, he said: “It was definitely a trip to make sure people get their trust in us back.”
Still, he said Boeing has already managed to win back the trust of the airline customers it deals with on a daily basis. And Mounir predicts they’ll be ordering more MAX now as the world begins to emerge from the air travel freeze.
“We are definitely getting out of this,” he said. âPersonally, I am optimistic.
Mounir gave an exclusive interview in his new corner office, its windows offering a view that stretches from the flight line at Renton Airport, where more than a dozen MAXs are parked, to the adjacent final assembly plant where these jets are built.
The location is the result of the business crisis. He moved there because Boeing put several properties up for sale, including the former Commercial Airplanes headquarters in nearby Longacres where his office was located.
While the view is great, the building is undergoing renovations inside for employees who have not yet moved in, and Mounir’s floor remains largely empty.
A rising star at Boeing
Boeing executives, whether at its headquarters in Chicago or in Seattle, gave few interviews during the maelstrom that began in the spring of 2019 when the MAX was grounded around the world following the crash in Ethiopia, less than five months after the first crash in Indonesia.
Stan Deal, the chief of Commercial Airplanes, after almost two years at the helm, made brief comments to the media at a few events but gave no in-depth interviews. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun even stopped answering questions from the media during the quarterly earnings conference calls.
Mounir, a charismatic personality with cosmopolitan depth and the assurance of a successful salesperson, is the first local executive to open up.
Born in Morocco, he came to the United States at age 17, fluent in Arabic, French and Spanish. But he needed a crash course in English at a language school before he was accepted to Wichita State University in Kansas, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aerospace engineering.
Mounir joined Boeing in 1997 as a senior aerodynamic engineer, then moved to the commercial side. It sold jets in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Russia before taking the lead in sales in Boeing’s largest market, covering China, Korea and Japan. He took over the entire sales organization in 2016.
Prior to 2019, during the boom years of aviation, his career seemed destined to soar undisturbed by severe turbulence.
Now sporting a salt and pepper beard from the COVID-19 era and turning 50 next month, he’s trying to pull Boeing through the worst sales slump in modern memory while being hampered by lingering quality issues from the side. from production.
Its best-selling jets are expected to be the MAX and the 787 Dreamliner. The MAX continues to ramp up after being immobilized for 21 months. And while Boeing delivered 158 widebody Dreamliners in 2019, it has only managed to deliver 24 of the jets in the past 12 months.
Deliveries of the 787 were halted for most of this period after engineers discovered manufacturing defects in the aircraft’s carbon composite fuselage junctions, critical pressure bulkheads, and other structural junctions. .
Deliveries remain on hold while the Federal Aviation Administration reviews the adequacy of Boeing’s proposed inspection regime. Delivery is not expected to resume until the end of October.
With the MAX stranded for nearly two years by fatal crashes, followed by a collapse in demand for all aircraft brought on by a pandemic, manufacturing quality issues emerge as Job’s affliction in the Old Testament, testing Boeing’s strength and resilience to the limit.
Mounir said he joined the entire Commercial Airplanes management team last week on a trip to the Dreamliner’s fuselage and final assembly factories in North Charleston, SC, ” to put the 787 back online “.
Light in front
The pandemic has squeezed the lives of superstar aircraft vendors like everyone else, putting an end to Mounir’s punitive pre-pandemic travel program.
âThe entire sales team, each of us, went from two to three weeks a month going nowhere,â he said. âLike everyone else, we found out how to use Zoom, and Teams, and all those other ways to communicate. “
Yet he sees the light in front of him now.
While the United States has opened up, “we’ve been traveling within the country quite frequently for several months now.”
And although international air passenger travel is only a quarter of what it was in 2019, that is starting to change slightly. The United States has just opened up to fully vaccinated European travelers, and Mounir and his team have resumed some international travel.
âWe were a team in Europe last week. We have been to UK, France, Germany, Spain. We have made a few forays into Asia; we went to Singapore, Azerbaijan; we went to the Middle East, âhe said. âSo it’s starting to happen.
While his airline customers until recently focused on saving money for survival, Mounir said he now sees them “getting back to business, getting back to growth”.
He cited Alaska Airlines, which has placed new orders for an additional 48 MAX since the jet returned to service. The local Seattle carrier, he said, “is reshaping everything it does and taking advantage of this break in traffic … to rework its cost structure, renew the fleet and improve its efficiency.”
He dismissed as temporary the 60% market share that the Airbus A320neo family has gained in the MAX, largely through successful sales of the larger A321neo model.
While this aircraft has more seats and more range than the larger MAX model, the MAX 10, Mounir says most airlines don’t need all that range and many will prefer the better economy per seat. of the MAX 10.
And in the larger widebody market, he is confident that when 787 deliveries resume, the surge in international travel will renew that aircraft’s fortunes and also lead to more orders.
âWhen people start to see the recovery take hold in the international market, I have no doubts in my mind that the 787 will do as well as we have done on the 737 over the past few months,â Mounir said. .
He also hinted that a cargo model of the future giant jet 777X would be launched soon. Qatar Airways is an airline known to be interested.
âWe have several customers who tell us about the 777FX,â Mounir said. âWatch this place. Things are going to happen.
And what about the critical Chinese airline market, which has absorbed a quarter of Boeing’s aircraft production in recent years, but where extreme tension between the United States and China now prevents new sales?
Mounir, experienced in China, is unfazed.
âWe have always seen China as a long game,â he said.
âWe are currently going through a bad patch. But … history tells us that we still have
overcome that, in a way, because the movement of goods is just as important to China as it is to us, the movement of people is just as important to China as it is to us, âMounir said. âOur growth depends on theirs, and their growth depends on ours. “
“Sometimes it takes a bit of zigzagging where we are now, but eventually we’ll get there,” he added. âI think everything will be fine in China. “
Restoring confidence in Boeing?
Mounir’s optimism for the long-term future of aviation is shared by most industry players. The upward trajectory of global passenger traffic for decades is steadily fueled by rising incomes in emerging economies around the world.
“We will always need planes to move people and goods,” he said. âWe are lifers. We believe in it. “
Less clear is Boeing’s own trajectory and whether it can regain its place as the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer. The MAX crashes and Boeing’s response to them have tarnished its earlier reputation for engineering prowess and technical quality.
The FAA is showing a new reluctance to trust Boeing’s word, forcing 787 deliveries to stop and extending the certification process for the upcoming 777X.
Mounir said Boeing has worked to restore confidence by correcting the MAX’s flaws and being transparent with the FAA, foreign regulators and airlines.
âWe listened, we learned. We made the changes we needed
do, âhe said. âWe made changes to the hardware, we made changes to the software, we made [pilot] training changes. And we tested them all over the place until Sunday.
He cited the more than 300 MAXs that currently fly globally and the big MAX orders from United, Southwest and Alaska since December as proof that airlines now trust the aircraft and trust Boeing again.
âWe have very, very high standards on ourselves to make sure that we leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that we have reliable, safe and high quality products,â Mounir said.
Boeing presents its decision not to ship any 787s until these manufacturing defects are addressed, even if they are not considered immediate safety concerns, as an illustration of these strict standards rather than proof of a sloppy quality.
âYou ask if it’s difficult. Listen, this is what we are doing, âMounir said. âWe have a decades of history of designing, building and delivering great products with a great safety record, with great performance. And we learn from the events. â¦ We learn and we move forward.
With the crashes in mind, Mounir pointed out the aspect of this business which is not just a business.
âWe don’t just make and sell planes,â he said. “We also fly in the
planes. We have our loved ones who fly on planes. We have our families who travel on planes.
“You know that we return home at the end of the day to go and live in the same neighborhood,” added Mounir. âEveryone knows we are Boeing. Yes. It’s personal.”