Boeing just sacked the head of its 737 Max program, an 18-year company veteran

Boeing Co. ousted the head of its 737 Max program after a midair blowout of a fuselage panel on an Alaska Airlines jet led to withering scrutiny of the manufacturing quality of the planemaker’s most important model.

Ed Clark, who helped ramp up 737 production in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, is stepping down effective immediately after nearly 18 years at Boeing, the company said Wednesday. Katie Ringgold succeeds Clark as vice president and general manager of the 737 program and Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington.

Boeing is also promoting Elizabeth Lund, a long-time engineering and operations leader, to a newly created post that will give her companywide oversight of quality measures. Lund was named senior vice president for quality at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. She will also serve on the planemaker’s executive committee as chair of the company’s quality operations council.

The management changes are the first undertaken since the company was plunged into crisis after a door plug exploded off a nearly new 737 Max on Jan. 5. US regulators have sent teams of inspectors to Boeing’s factories to review quality controls and those of the supplier that makes most of the 737 Max’s fuselage. In an unprecedented move, the Federal Aviation Administration has barred Boeing from increasing production rates for the cash-cow jet until the regulator is convinced the planemaker has an adequate grasp over the quality of work in its factories.

Read More: Boeing CEO Fights Back Tears in Address, Admits to ‘Mistake’

Clark’s exit is part of a broader shakeup announced by commercial chief Stan Deal in an internal memo Wednesday. Deal and Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun face pressure from regulators, lawmakers, airlines and investors to address a spate of high-profile manufacturing defects that have disrupted production since the Covid pandemic waned.

Investigators have said the panel on the Alaska plane should have been secured by four retaining bolts, but those critical parts were missing from the aircraft when it left Boeing’s Renton factory.

Boeing’s airplane division is working to ensure “that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality and safety requirements,” Deal said in the memo. “Our customers demand, and deserve, nothing less.”

Lund had previously overseen production of all Boeing commercial aircraft, including the 737. Mike Fleming succeeds her as senior vice president and general manager of airplane programs and will work closely with her to implement the manufacturer’s quality initiatives and minimize work that has to be redone or performed out of sequence due to late-arriving parts, according to Deal.

US Federal Aviation Administration personnel are working through a six-week audit of Boeing’s practices. The agency’s findings are expected to inform recommendations for reforms by the company. The regulator also launched an investigation into Boeing after the Alaska accident, and has embedded more staff into Boeing’s factories as part of an enhanced oversight push in the wake of the accident and a string of other quality lapses.

Boeing closed 0.9% lower on Wednesday in New York. The shares have tumbled 23% this year, the worst performance among the 30-member Dow Jones Industrial Average.

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