Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg Steps Down As 737 Max Crisis Continues

Dec 23, 2019
Originally published on December 23, 2019 6:54 pm
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The CEO of Boeing has resigned, effective immediately. The company announced an insider will take over in January. It's the latest chapter in the crisis that has enveloped Boeing after two deadly crashes of their 737 Max airplanes. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Chicago.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It was just a few months ago Dennis Muilenburg, the now-former CEO of Boeing, acknowledged the company made mistakes by failing to give pilots more information about a stall prevention system before two crashes left 346 people dead. Boeing took months to disclose that an alarm to alert pilots was not standard equipment. After a recent congressional hearing, he had this strong message.

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DENNIS MUILENBURG: Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and the flying public.

CORLEY: Exactly what the company seemed to be saying today when it announced Muilenburg's immediate resignation. Paul Njoroge calls Muilenburg's ouster too little and much too late. He lost his entire family - his wife, three children and mother-in-law - when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed last March. Njoroge wants the entire Boeing board to be fired.

PAUL NJOROGE: These people acted negligently and allowed a plane that should not have flown to fly. And they never, at any point, felt compelled to make the right decisions.

CORLEY: He's not the only one saying Muilenburg should have been let go long ago. Statements have come in from the union representing engineers and technical workers at the company to members of Congress applauding the move. Boeing grounded the 737 Max last March and said this month that it would halt production of the plane in January. Economists estimate that will lower overall economic growth in the country. Christine Negroni is an aviation safety analyst and says there were problems with design issues and the company's culture that Muilenburg never addressed.

CHRISTINE NEGRONI: He should have come in and said, look; you know, we've got to learn our lesson. We need to stop being so arrogant. We need to listen more, talk less, do what we do, which is engineering, and do it better. And that I didn't see happen under his leadership from 2015 on.

CORLEY: The company's chief financial officer relieved Boeing in the interim. Then the chairman of the board, David Calhoun, will take over. Richard Aboulafia is an aviation analyst with the Teal Group and says an insider like Calhoun may have the job solely to stabilize the situation.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: But in terms of somebody to reform the company, to change the way that management communicates with engineering, to change the company's product line strategy and everything like that - big strategic decisions - he wouldn't appear to be the right person for that job.

CORLEY: Christine Negroni says that Boeing has a long way to go before regaining the public's trust.

NEGRONI: Their employees are ticked off at them. Passengers are nervous about them. Airlines are extremely unhappy with them. And no one that I can see says there's a brighter day tomorrow.

CORLEY: For now the company has pledged what it calls full transparency, including effective and proactive communication with regulators. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.