January 20, 2020 / 1:00 PM / a month ago

Boeing customer Air Lease says 'damaged' MAX brand should be dropped

* Lessor Air Lease has 150 MAX planes on order

* Echoes call by Donald Trump for ‘rebrand’

* Says unclear how customers will react to plane

By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The chairman of major aircraft leasing firm Air Lease, which has 150 of Boeing’s grounded 737 MAX jet on order, on Monday called on the U.S. manufacturer to drop the “damaged” MAX brand to avoid it undermining the plane’s value.

The comments by Steven Udvar-Hazy, one of the founders of the airplane leasing industry which finances around half of the world’s passenger fleet, echoes a call by U.S. President Donald Trump in April last year to “rebrand” its 737 MAX jetliner.

Boeing said last June it had no plans to change the name of the jet.

“We’ve asked Boeing to get rid of that word MAX,” Udvar-Hazy told the Airline Economics aviation finance conference in Dublin. “I think that word MAX should go down in the history books as a bad name for an aircraft.”

“The MAX brand is damaged and there is really no reason for it,” he added.

Boeing is halting production of the 737 MAX this month following the grounding in March of its best-selling plane after two fatal crashes in five months killed 346 people.

A U.S. official briefed on the matter on Friday said U.S. regulator the Federal Aviation Administration is now unlikely to approve the plane’s return until March, and that it could take until April.

American Airlines Group Inc and Southwest Airlines Co have both said they would extend cancellations of MAX flights until early June.

Asked if the MAX brand might damage the value of the jet or its future lease rates, Udvar-Hazy said it was not yet clear.

Airlines are still trying to gauge passengers’ reluctance to fly on the MAX, he said, and how long this will last. “Will it be two months, will it be six months, will it be different in different parts of the world?”

“Will people in the U.S. after a few months forget about the accidents and think ‘oh its just another 737’, or are there going to be parts of the world where people are going to be more superstitious and it will take longer for them to erase that stigma?”

Udvar-Hazy said he was hopeful the plane would be cleared by regulators in both Europe and the United States within 90 days, but added that “it almost feels like every week there are new developments that cause us to be concerned” about the timing.

Air Lease has 42 MAX aircraft currently grounded.

Udvar-Hazy said he did not expect the MAX to flood the market and push down lease rates once it is cleared to fly, as Boeing is unlikely to be able to deliver more than 50-60 jets per month including new production. (Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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