Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun attempted to rally employees in October after another manufacturing setback, this time involving incorrectly drilled holes in a critical aircraft section - yet another setback for a company that once had a sterling reputation for building awesome flying machines.
"I've heard people outside our company ask if we've fallen behind. "I see it quite the opposite," Calhoun said in a business message, going on to extol the "rigour around our quality processes" at the US aircraft manufacturer. "I am proud of the team, and confident we'll look back on this time as when we took the necessary steps that set Boeing on the right course for the future."
That newfound optimism was sucked right out of a big hole in the side of a Being 737 Max 9. The desk-sized cover for an optional door was completely torn from the nearly-new aircraft on Jan. 5, exposing the 177 people on board to the horror of being dragged into the evening sky at 16,000 feet (4,900 meters). Fortunately, no lives were lost, and the plane successfully landed in Portland, Oregon, during an emergency landing.
However, as smartphone photographs and video of the horrifying tragedy spread across the world, Boeing engineers, investors, and, most importantly, the flying public were reminded of how far this corporation has fallen — and the long road to recovery that awaits.
Boeing's name and the troublesome 737 Max model are now associated with some of the worst airplane safety and design failures in recent aviation history. The Boeing 737 Max accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 in late 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 less than five months later killed 346 people. Following extensive civil and criminal investigations, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion in a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice in early 2021.
Boeing is now facing a Federal Aviation Administration probe as well as months of congressional and media attention, and the options for Calhoun and his crew aren't appealing. According to Boeing insiders, important customers, and regulators, the only way forward is a hard reset centered on safety and a full rethinking of the company's sourcing, assembly, and quality control methods. It's a process that will take years, not quarters, and may even necessitate a tactical break from the company's competition with Airbus SE.