Boeing CEO admits error, says mid-air blowout ‘can never happen again’

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Washington, Jan. 9, 2024 – Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun acknowledged errors by the U.S. planemaker as more than 170 jets remained grounded for a fourth day, telling staff the company would ensure an accident like the mid-air Alaska Airlines panel blowout “can never happen again.”

The company’s top plane making official, Stan Deal, also told a somber town hall meeting at its Renton, Washington 737 factory that Boeing acknowledges “the real seriousness of the accident” as it launches checks into its quality controls and processes.

Calhoun’s remarks were Boeing’s first public acknowledgment of errors since a so-called door plug snapped off the fuselage of a nearly full 737 MAX 9 on Friday, leaving a gaping hole next to a miraculously empty seat.

Calhoun said he had been “shaken to the bone” by the accident, which rekindled pressure on Boeing over its troubled small plane family almost five years after a full-blown MAX safety crisis sparked by deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

“We’re going to approach this, number one, acknowledging our mistake,” Calhoun told employees, according to an excerpt released by Boeing. “We’re going to approach it with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way.”

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, the two U.S. carriers that use the temporarily grounded planes, have found loose parts on similar aircraft, raising fears such an incident could have happened again.

In a separate meeting on Tuesday, Boeing told staff the findings were being treated as a “quality control issue” and checks were under way at Boeing and fuselage supplier Spirit Aerosystems, sources familiar with the matter said.

Boeing has sent written orders to its own plants and those of its suppliers to ensure such problems are addressed and to carry out broader checks of systems and processes, they said.

Boeing shares fell 1.4% on Tuesday as United canceled 225 daily flights, or 8% of its total, while Alaska Airlines canceled 109, or 18%. Similar cancellations were expected on Wednesday.

Calhoun also told Boeing employees the company would “ensure every next airplane that moves into the sky is in fact safe.”

He praised the Alaska Airlines crew that swiftly landed the plane, with only minor injuries to the 171 passengers and six crew.

Calhoun, who was a Boeing board member when all MAX jets were grounded in 2019, also praised Alaska Airlines for quickly grounding its 737 MAX 9 jets, adding he knew “how hard it is to ground planes, much less the fleet,” the sources said.

Some industry leaders have privately criticized Boeing for not grounding planes faster on Saturday. People familiar with the matter say it had been drawing up plans to order inspections when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intervened with an emergency order to ground 171 planes. (Reuters)

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