VIEWPOINT: Boeing does the right thing – finally



In the end it apparently was four missing bolts that did in outgoing Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun. Not the two MAX crashes that happened on his watch while he was a board member in which almost 400 people were killed. But four missing bolts on a ‘door plug’ on another MAX model. Calhoun announced this week he was stepping down at the end of the year. For Boeing’s victims, its workers, and its customers, the end can’t come soon enough. Perhaps when Calhoun is gone, along with board chairman Larry Kellner and Commercial Airplanes President Stan Deal, Boeing will find its way forward. But don’t bet on it anytime soon.

“Two Boeing MAX-8 planes crashed within five months while Calhoun was at a top executive spot at the company, yet it takes the sloppy design of a different aircraft —  grounded in greed — to lead him to want to leave early,” said Robert Clifford, founder and senior partner of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago and Lead Counsel in the federal litigation pending in the 2019 Boeing MAX crash in Ethiopia.  “The watershed moment should have been when nearly 400 people died in the Boeing MAX 8 disasters years ago. Taken seriously, it is likely that the Alaska Air debacle could have been averted, and the company would be on the way to healing itself, and ensuring the safety of the flying public. The families knew that the culture of profit over safety would not change when Calhoun took over in January 2020 because he was raised on that principle.”

But don’t cry for Calhoun, or Deal or Kellner. They will likely walk away from Boeing with tens of millions of dollars, keep their heads down for a while, and then join other boards of directors at other companies or write books on how hard it is to turn around an ailing company. Reports are coming in that say Calhoun will walk away from Boeing with a $24 million payday, but he stands to collect about $45.5 million more if the next CEO at Boeing, Stephanie Pope, can boost the stock price nearly 37 percent.

And Boeing, unfortunately, is the sick man of aviation at the moment. Its entire corporate culture is under the microscope, as it should be. Boeing in the past several years has indeed cared more about profits than safety because instead of engineers that build quality airplanes, the company became staffed with financial engineers who just moved money around to ‘enhance shareholder value’.

“This exodus is just a start,” said Clifford, the victims’ attorney. “As the victims’ families of the Boeing crash have stated, the company needs a complete clean out. Competent people who value safety must be running that company to send a message throughout the entire industry that it is serious about making planes that are safe. All Boeing workers must take pride in what they are doing with the lives of every passenger in their hands. That simply isn’t the case as dozens of whistleblowers and previous employees have complained. Boeing must come to terms that the MAX aircraft must be totally re-certified. Boeing engineers must work on the latest state-of-the-art design of a new plane instead of retooling a plane that has been in the air 50 years for the purpose that the FAA conducts less scrutiny.  There’s just too much wrong with that aircraft.”

Clifford is correct that Boeing needs to come up with a clean-sheet design. But more importantly, it needs to move its so-called management closer to the factory floor. If I’m the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, I’d want my office right next to the manufacturing floor with a policy that any employee, from the janitor to the top programmer or mechanic, can walk into my office at any time with a complaint, a suggestion or a concern that safety is not being taken as it should.

The names may change in the executive suite at Boeing, but only time will tell if the culture will change. Boeing’s executives need to remember that when their company makes  mistakes, passengers pay with their lives.


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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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