Boeing faces backlash from airline bosses


Airline bosses on both sides of the Atlantic are attacking Boeing over a series of recent safety and production problems (loose bolts, a discarded wrench found under the floor, delayed shipments) as the crisis over the airline maker's 737 Max 9 planes show few signs. to finish soon.

The ordeal is taking its toll. Boeing shares have fallen nearly 15 percent since Jan. 5, when a door plug came loose from a Max 9 during an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after takeoff.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded some Max 9 planes until they were inspected and said it would investigate whether Boeing failed to ensure the plane was safe. (Here's an explanation from the New York Times about how the door panel may have come loose from that Alaskan plane.)

Dave Calhoun, who became Boeing CEO to turn the company around after the fatal Max crashes in 2018 and 2019, will meet Wednesday with senators including Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Commerce Committee. Ms. Cantwell said last week that she planned to hold hearings on the merits of Max 9.

Boeing customers have openly expressed their frustrations. “I'm angry,” Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci told NBC News on Tuesday after finding “many” loose screws in the controls of his Max 9. “My demand to Boeing is what are they going to do to improve their programs?” internal quality standards.

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, told CNBC on Tuesday that “the suspension of the Max 9 is probably the straw that broke the camel's back for us.” He said the company was unsure whether it would receive the Max 10 planes – a new passenger plane that has not yet been certified – that he had ordered any time soon. “At least we're going to build a plan that doesn't include the Max 10,” Kirby said.

Airline bosses hope the harsh comments will force Boeing to improve quality control and engineering. But they don't want to sow panic about plane safety amid a sharp rebound in travel bookings over the past year. And there aren't many alternatives to Boeing or its main rival, Airbus.

Boeing's problems will have a lasting impact. Mike Leskinen, United's chief financial officer, told analysts that the shutdowns would hurt growth for “years to come.” Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, a European low-cost airline that is one of Boeing's biggest customers, also has doubts that the Max 10 will be delivered soon.

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