Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun said the planemaker must own up to its shortcomings as it grapples with a safety incident that has renewed questions over the quality of its manufacturing.
“We’re going to approach this — No. 1 — acknowledging our mistake,” Calhoun told Boeing employees Tuesday during a companywide meeting at its 737 factory near Seattle. “We’re going to approach it with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way.”
The remarks came during an all-hands meeting called by Calhoun to reinforce safety as the company’s top priority after a door plug ejected from a 737 Max 9 last week mid-flight, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane. He and other senior Boeing leaders addressed employees from its Renton, Washington, factory where the 737 is assembled, and webcast their remarks to workers at other locations.
US regulators grounded 171 of Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircraft and ordered inspections after the Jan. 5 accident. None of the 177 passengers and crew onboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 were injured when the panel ripped free shortly after the plane departed from Portland, Oregon.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, tasked with raising output while also maintaining quality at Boeing’s largest unit, spoke alongside Calhoun at Tuesday’s presentation. Also addressing workers was Chief Safety Officer Mike Delaney, whose senior executive role was created during a previous crisis involving the US planemaker’s cash-cow Max jet: a global grounding after two fatal crashes killed a combined 346 people nearly five years ago.
Calhoun had told employees earlier that the all-hands meeting would focus on Boeing’s “response to this accident, and reinforcing our focus on and our commitment to safety, quality, integrity and transparency.”
Much is at stake for Calhoun and for Boeing after a series of quality issues tripped up production of Boeing’s most important aircraft last year. The accident last week complicates the CEO’s work to rebuild Boeing’s image after the crashes and a prolonged grounding of the 737 Max.
Alaska Air Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. have both discovered other 737 Max 9 jets with loose bolts after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the Max 9 and ordered carriers to inspect the planes. Formal inspections have yet to start — the agency said Tuesday that Boeing is revising instructions for the checks after receiving feedback, and all of the affected planes will remain idled until the regulator deems them safe.
Alaska was still awaiting inspection and maintenance instructions from Boeing and the FAA’s approval of the procedures as of 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, the carrier said on in a statement on social media platform X.
“It seems to be a bit of a moving target,” Savanthi Syth, a Raymond James analyst, said of final instructions for the inspection process. “I can appreciate the FAA’s perspective on this with the other Max issues, where they were a little too quick to say, ‘This is fine.’ They’re really trying to cross the T’s and dot the I’s on this one.”
A chorus of airline chiefs, including two of Boeing’s biggest customers — Ryanair Holdings Plc’s Michael O’Leary and Emirates’ Tim Clark in Dubai — have spoken publicly of the need for Boeing to raise quality standards.
“They’ve had quality control problems for a long time now, and this is just another manifestation of that,” Clark said in an interview this week in Dubai. “I think they’re getting their act together now, but this doesn’t help.”
National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said Monday that her agency would consider broadening the probe. Such a move would bring deeper scrutiny for Boeing and its manufacturing processes, and magnify issue as the US planemaker seeks to get the aircraft back into service.
The panel that broke loose from Flight 1282 covered an opening on the Max 9 that can be used for emergency exits. Some airlines, including United and Alaska, cover them up because the doors aren’t needed for lower-density seat configurations.
“We do see the latest incident as eroding the fragile confidence that has been built around the 737 Max franchise,” Ron Epstein, an analyst with Bank of America, told clients over the weekend. “In our view, Boeing needs to tread carefully and cautiously through this potential reputational minefield.”
First Published: Jan 10 2024 | 7:39 AM IST