Boeing leadership shakeup raises questions after 737 Max 9 blowout



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The resignation of Boeing CEO David Calhoun is raising questions about the future of the embattled aircraft company as it navigates fallout from a high-profile blowout earlier this year.

Calhoun announced Monday he would be stepping down as CEO at the end of the year. Brought in to help fix Boeing following fatal 737 Max 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019, Calhoun departs amid another catastrophe after the fuselage panel of a 737 Max 9 blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

Boeing also announced that Board Chair Larry Kellner will step down later this year and would be succeeded by Steve Mollenkopf. Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, retired effective immediately and was replaced by Stephanie Pope.

Ashley Fulmer, assistant professor of managerial science at the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, told The Hill that the “leadership shakeup provides a visible signal to show that Boeing is taking accountability.” 

“However, it is a strategy that Boeing has used repeatedly, without successfully addressing their safety problems,” Fulmer added. 

Boeing fired Calhoun’s predecessor, Dennis Muilenburg, in 2019 in the aftermath of the two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jetliners that killed 346 people.

“With the rapid succession of CEOs, it’s possible that lawmakers and regulators will question who bears the ultimate responsibility for the accidents and the plan for addressing the problems. In other words, who is going to make sure that Boeing will adhere to the new requirements and demands for change?” Fulmer said.

Robert Bird, a professor of business law at the University of Connecticut, told The Hill that “Boeing’s change in leadership is not enough to fix its problems.” 

“Boeing must undergo a long and difficult process of changing the culture under which it operates. Safety and quality must be second to none,” Bird said.

When asked for comment, a Boeing spokesman pointed to the company’s previous pledge to be “as transparent as possible” while focusing “on safety and on quality.”

Regulators and lawmakers are pushing to increase oversight of the company in the wake of the accident.

Recent investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation experts found significant gaps and confusion surrounding Boeing’s safety culture and policies.

FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker has raised concerns with “issues around the safety culture” at Boeing.

“Their priorities have been on production, and not on safety and quality. So what we really are focused on now is shifting that focus from production to safety and quality,” Whitaker said in an interview last week.

The Department of Justice has also launched a criminal investigation after the company admitted it couldn’t find records that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requested for factory work done on the panel.

Boeing also faces several lawsuits filed by shareholders, who allege they were misled about “serious safety lapses,” and passengers in the wake of the blowout.

In a letter to employees Monday, the CEO called the accident a “watershed moment for Boeing” and called for the company to respond with “humility and complete transparency.” 

In the wake of the 2018 and 2019 crashes, Boeing also revamped its lobbying operation, which has been key in helping the company’s presence among policymakers during this period of renewed scrutiny.

Boeing has built one of the biggest lobbying operations in Washington, spending $14.5 million on federal lobbying in 2023 and managing an operation of 109 registered lobbyists, including five former members of Congress. There’s already been one major change to the roster this year, with Boeing parting ways with Cornerstone Government Affairs after nearly 14 years.

A Boeing spokesperson also previously told The Hill that the airline giant’s in-house lobbying team has contacted every member of Congress since the January blowout.

In his letter Monday, Calhoun acknowledged Boeing “must inculcate a total commitment to safety and quality at every level of our company.”

Calhoun has committed to come up with a plan that would deliver “profound change” at the company.

Whoever succeeds Calhoun will inherit promises of reform adopted in the wake of the latest crisis facing Boeing.

Several names have been floated for Calhoun’s replacement, including General Electric CEO Lawrence Culp, Boeing director and Carrier CEO David Gitlin, Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden and Pope, the newly-appointed president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Forbes reported.

Questions about who will ensure Boeing sticks to those reforms “may lead to calls in Washington for promises, commitments, and compliance that are more tangible than words and plans, as top leaders are seen as temporary figureheads in rotation,” Fulmer noted.

But ultimately, Bird said, “engineers who care about safety and quality must lead the way.”

“The company must fundamentally reorient its goals and practices. If they don’t, it is only a matter of time before Boeing faces even more difficulties,” Bird said.

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