Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun to step down, part of a shakeup after 737 Max problems

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Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Boeing announced on Monday that its embattled CEO, Dave Calhoun, will step down at the end of year. The planemaker and aerospace company also said its board chairman, Larry Kellner, will not stand for re-election and the president of its commercial airplanes division, Stan Deal, will retire effective immediately.

The leadership shakeup comes after several difficult months following the in-flight door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max jet in January above Portland, Ore.

No one was seriously injured. But the incident renewed major questions about quality control and safety at the company that have dogged the 737 Max line since a pair of crashes in 2018 and 2019, which killed a total of 346 people.

“The Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 accident was a watershed moment for Boeing,” Calhoun wrote in a letter to Boeing employees. “The eyes of the world are on us, and I know we will come through this moment a better company.”

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that found four key bolts were missing when the plane involved in the Alaska flight left Boeing’s factory.

The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation of the Alaska incident, notifying passengers on the flight that they are “a possible victim of a crime.”

Boeing had also come under growing pressure from its biggest customers, the airlines.

“Boeing needs to become a better company,” said Bob Jordan, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, during an investor conference earlier this month.

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Workers are pictured next to an unpainted 737 aircraft and unattached wing with the Ryanair logo as Boeing’s 737 factory teams held a “Quality Stand Down” for the 737 program at Boeing’s factory in Renton, Wash. on January 25, 2024. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

“I, and I know other CEOs, have told Boeing, get your issues understood and get the issues fixed,” Jordan said. “Because we all need Boeing to be stronger two years from now, five years from now, ten years from now.”

The Wall Street Journal and other outlets reported that a group of airline CEOs was set to meet with the board of Boeing this week — and that Calhoun would not be present.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Boeing chose this moment to announce the management shakeup. But some of the company’s loudest critics say it was the right move, regardless.

Richard Aboulafia, a longtime industry analyst and the managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, says there was mounting dissatisfaction with the company’s leadership.

“Dissatisfaction among everyone, from the airline customers to financiers to investors to regulators and Congress, all the way down to the traveling public,” Aboulafia said in an interview. “Given all that tremendous dissatisfaction bordering on anger, I think this very clearly had to happen.”

The move was “necessary and overdue,” agreed Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya Stumo was killed five years ago in the second 737 Max 8 crash in Ethiopia.

“Now they need to search the world for the best CEO with proven performance on production quality and safety in complex manufacturing,” he said in an email.

Stumo welcomed the announcement that Kellner and Deal are also leaving their positions. Though he expressed concern that Deal’s replacement as head of commercial airplane division is Stephanie Pope, who has a background in finance and investor relations rather than engineering or manufacturing.

Industry analyst Aboulafia called that concern “understandable.” But he’s hopeful fresh leadership will be able to change the direction of the company.

“It’s a long road back,” Aboulafia said. “The most important thing is to transform the company’s culture and to restore those links between the people at the top and people who design and build aircraft. That’s going to take some time. And a lot of it depends on who gets the new top job and other jobs. But at least now, for the first time in years, there’s hope.”

NPR’s Joel Rose reported from Washington, D.C. and Russell Lewis from Birmingham, Ala.

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