UPDATE 5: Boeing strips CEO Muilenburg of chairman’s post after report slams company and FAA on MAX certification deficiencies

Surprise move sees Dennis Muilenburg remaining as CEO, president and director while lead director David Calhoun elected non-executive chairman. The move to split the roles comes after a report looking into the MAX crashes and how the plane was certified was released and was highly critical of Boeing and US aviation officials and the MAX certification process.


In a surprising move coming in the wake of two 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people, Boeing said Friday (11 October) in the US that its board of directors has separated the roles of chairman and chief executive officer. Dennis Muilenburg continues as CEO, president and a director. The board elected David Calhoun, current independent lead director, to serve as non-executive chairman.

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing CEO and now ex-chairman.

The board said splitting the chairman and CEO roles will enable Muilenburg to focus full time on running the company as it works to return the 737 MAX safely to service, ensure full support to Boeing’s customers around the world, and implement changes to sharpen Boeing’s focus on product and services safety. Boeing’s commitment to safety has been in question over the past few months due to two crashes involving the 737 MAX, with critics saying the company was more concerned about profits than safety and rushed the MAX into service when it was unsafe. “I am fully supportive of the board’s action. Our entire team is laser-focused on returning the 737 MAX safely to service and delivering on the full breadth of our company’s commitments,” said Muilenburg.

David Calhoun, Boeing’s new chairman.

Calhoun said in Boeing’s statement announcing the move that “the board has full confidence in Dennis as CEO and believes this division of labour will enable maximum focus on running the business with the board playing an active oversight role. The board also plans in the near term to name a new director with deep safety experience and expertise to serve on the board and its newly established Aerospace Safety Committee.”

The move also comes after a highly critical report on Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was released that said federal regulators certified Boeing’s 737 MAX  without a clear understanding of a crucial new system on the plane, a failure that contributed to the two deadly accidents. The report was produced by a multiagency task force that included officials from the FAA, NASA and nine international regulators. US lawmakers and federal investigators are still conducting their own probes of the design and approval of the aircraft.

What others are saying:

Click on the icon above to download the JATR report that reviewed the MAX certification process.

Among the report’s findings were that Boeing did not clearly explain to regulators a new automated system that contributed to the two crashes, and that the FAA lacked the capability to effectively analyse much of what Boeing did share about the new plane. The FAA relied heavily on Boeing employees to approve the safety of the MAX, using a system of delegation that is being scrutinised by lawmakers in the wake of the tragedies. The report found that Boeing employees who worked on behalf of the FAA had at times faced “undue pressures” during the plane’s development. Boeing has been working hard in recent weeks to push back against the public perception that it put profits over safety and has created special safety groups both at the board level and lower down the corporate food chain. In a statement, the Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe told the New York Times “safety is a core value for everyone at Boeing,” and that the company “is committed to working with the FAA in reviewing the recommendations and helping to continuously improve the process and approach used to validate and certify airplanes going forward.”

The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was the second involving a 737 MAX and took to the MAX death toll to 346.
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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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