Boeing CEO Resigns Leaving a Legacy of Missteps and Delays
“I formally warned Boeing leadership in writing on multiple occasions — specifically, once before the Lion Air crash and again before the Ethiopian Airlines crash about potential airplane risk due to the unstable operating environment within the factory. Those warnings were ignored.” – Whistleblower Ed Pierson
Boeing announced Dennis Muilenburg’s resignation on Monday, a move that was effective immediately. While the language used suggested Muilenberg may have had some say in the matter, a source privy to behind the scenes action told CNN that the board of directors had decided the previous weekend to ask for Muilenberg’s resignation. His tenure at the helm lasted barely more than 4 years and was cut short as a response to the disastrous rollout of the 737 Max aircraft, which caused two fatal crashes.
Trying to Replicate Success
Muilenberg led the company through the release of the 787 Dreamliner, which like the 737 Max, was plagued by production delays. The plane was ultimately successful and the company undoubtedly sought to emulate its path for the 737 Max. After all, the Max would be built off one of the company’s oldest platforms and the best-selling commercial craft, accounting for 10,563 since its release in 1965, according to data reported by David Kaminski-Morrow for FlightGlobal.
In the five decades that followed, there have been several iterations of the 737, so it was only natural for more updates to come with the Max edition. After it took to the skies in 2017, two related incidents in October 2018 and March 2019 led to airlines pulling it from service and cancelling orders, customers demanding different planes, governments investigating, and the company halting all production.
A Pattern of Ignoring Safety Warnings
Muilenburg’s ouster came not as a result of the 737 Max failures, but the way Boeing handled the fallout.
“A change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders,” the company said in a press release announcing his departure.
At a House Transportation Committee hearing earlier this month, whistleblower Ed Pierson, former Boeing employee, testified about the upper management at the business when problems with the 737 Max began to show.
“I formally warned Boeing leadership in writing on multiple occasions — specifically, once before the Lion Air crash and again before the Ethiopian Airlines crash about potential airplane risk due to the unstable operating environment within the factory,” Pierson said. “Those warnings were ignored.”
That seemed to be the hallmark characteristic of Boeing under Muilenburg: warning lights flash, but the show must go on. For Muilenburg, rushing units out the door to satisfy orders justified the careless decisions that let the craft make it to the sky. Perhaps as a reason for his resignation, more accounts of safety being ignored were turned over to the committee hours after his resignation.
“Boeing proactively brought these communications to the FAA and Congress as part of our commitment to transparency with our regulators and the oversight committees,” Boeing said in a statement. “As with prior documents referenced by the committee, the tone and content of some of these communications does not reflect the company we are and need to be. We have made significant changes as a company in the past nine months to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture.”
If only it had been more proactive from the onset, lives might have been spared and the matter would have been resolved before it became blown out of proportion. If the company has indeed made “significant decisions,” it is clear they were unable to hold to them under Muilenburg.
A Ripple Effect Across the Industry
Muilenburg and Boeing are not the only parties affected by its rash decision-making with the 737 Max. Airlines and contractors producing parts for the plane are starting to experience the ripple effect of a perpetually-grounded plane. Spirit AeroSystems, the largest private employer in Wichita, Kan., produces 70 percent of the 737, said Nadya Faulx of KMUW radio in Wichita. After Boeing first grounded the plane, completed fuselages begin stacking up – now 40 line the outside of its campus.
Spirit employs 12,500 in Wichita, but its workforce rises and falls with the demands of Boeing. Now that the 737 Max work is suspended indefinitely, employees and Kansas lawmakers are questioning the job security at Spirit. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly even went so far as to float the idea of the state supporting employees, according to The Wichita Eagle.
Gregory Daco, chief US economist at Oxford Economics, even estimated the production halt will put a dent into the entire gross domestic product for the nation. By his calculations, it will be 0.5 percent lower than it would be otherwise.
Muilenburg’s forced resignation capped Boeing’s worst year in recent history. Ultimately, someone had to take the fall and it could be considered amazing that he managed to hold on this long despite the abundance of evidence of corporate negligence that has come out since the crash in March.
Problems, Problems Everywhere
Unfortunately for the company, Boeing’s problems did not end with the 737 Max disaster. The Starliner spacecraft failed on its maiden voyage to reach the proper orbit on Dec. 20. Instead of docking with the International Space Station, it came home early. The company was first contracted by NASA in 2011 and 8 years later, it was only able to deliver a single failed mission. Although SpaceX had a nearly 10-year head-start, Boeing had plenty of expertise after decades of working in both air and space industries, yet it was unable to produce any accomplishment.
Like the 737 Max and Dreamliner before it, the Starliner is massively behind schedule, originally slated to fly in 2014. Boeing and its new CEO, former Chairman David Calhoun, have the difficult mission now of reclaiming faith from customers and regulatory agencies while putting two projects back on track. It is hard to imagine a worse year for Boeing, so 2020 should be decent by that standard at least.