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Boeing CEO points at predecessor's weak leadership for 737 MAX mess

A board member since 2009, Calhoun was named chairman in October when Boeing stripped Muilenburg of that role

AFP/PTI  |  New York 

Boeing 737 Max 8
Calhoun, who had publicly praised Muilenburg prior to the ouster, appeared in the interview to downplay board responsibility for the crisis

Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun largely blamed his predecessor for the crisis over the 737 MAX, which remains grounded after two deadly crashes, in an interview published Thursday.

Calhoun, a longstanding board member who took over as chief executive on January 13, told the New York Times that the problems at Boeing were even bigger than he anticipated.

"It's more than I imagined it would be, honestly," Calhoun said. "And it speaks to the weaknesses of our leadership." He said predecessor Dennis Muilenburg had ramped up Boeing's plane production too quickly.

"I'll never be able to judge what motivated Dennis, whether it was a stock price that was going to continue to go up and up, or whether it was just beating the other guy to the next rate increase," he said.

"If anybody ran over the rainbow for the pot of gold on stock, it would have been him." The MAX has been grounded since March 2019 following two crashes that killed 346 people. March 10 marks the one-year anniversary of the second crash on an Ethiopian Airlines plane.

A board member since 2009, Calhoun was named chairman in October when Boeing stripped Muilenburg of that role.

On December 23, Boeing named Calhoun as CEO, finally ousting Muilenburg entirely, and saying the company needed to "restore confidence" and "repair relationships with regulators, customers and all other stakeholders." Calhoun remains on the board, but Lawrence Kellner was named as non-executive chairman as part of the December shakeup.

Calhoun, who had publicly praised Muilenburg prior to the ouster, appeared in the interview to downplay board responsibility for the crisis.

Calhoun told the newspaper that he and the rest of the board did not question Muilenburg after the first MAX crash in October 2018 of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia and that the board trusted Muilenburg's instincts as an engineer and longtime Boeing executive.

"If we were complacent in any way, maybe, maybe not, I don't know," Calhoun said. "We supported a CEO who was willing and whose history would suggest that he might be really good at taking a few more risks."

The newspaper also reported that Calhoun implied that pilots were partly to blame for the crashes, saying in Indonesia and Ethiopia, "pilots don't have anywhere near the experience that they have here in the US."


Pilots groups criticized Muilenburg for blaming pilots for the accidents.

Investigations of the crashes have pointed at a flight handling system that malfunctioned and made the plane impossible to control.

Boeing has been developing new software and training in an effort to win regulatory approval to resume flights on the MAX.

On Thursday, Boeing commercial plane chief Stan Deal told a Washington aviation conference that the company was still targeting mid-2020 to win regulatory approval for the MAX.

First Published: Fri, March 06 2020. 06:40 IST
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