Boeing fires CEO Muilenburg to restore confidence amid 737 crisis

Lion Air's Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane is parked on the tarmac of Soekarno Hatta International airport near Jakarta. (File photo: Reuters)

Boeing Co has fired Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg after repeatedly failing to contain the fallout from a pair of fatal crashes that halted output of its best-selling jetliner and tarnished its reputation with airlines and regulators.

Boeing – beset by one setback after another following the two air disasters – dropped Muilenburg as it became increasingly clear that he was making little headway resolving a crisis that has cost it $9 billion, hurt suppliers and airlines, and now threatens to cut the pace of US economic growth.

Chairman David Calhoun, a former General Electric executive who has been on the Boeing board since 2009, will take over as CEO and president, effective from January 13, Boeing said. Until then, Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith will run the world’s largest planemaker.

“The board of directors decided that a change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence,” a Boeing statement said. A Boeing official said the board had deliberated over the weekend and decided to oust Muilenburg in a phone call on Sunday.

Muilenburg could not be reached for comment.

Boeing shares, which have dropped more than 20 percent over the past nine months, closed up 2.9 percent.

The 737 MAX has been grounded since March after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people within five months.

Boeing is struggling to mend relations with the US and international regulators it needs to win over to get the jet back in the air.

After keeping assembly lines open and storing 400 planes to be ready for a return to flight, Boeing acknowledged this month it would not be able to reach its target of flying this year and announced it would halt 737 MAX production in January.

Boeing on Monday said shipments from 737 suppliers will be suspended for a month starting mid-January, adding that it was uncertain when production would restart.

Economists estimate that will lower overall US economic growth by half a percentage point.

Muilenburg’s departure followed a week of dramatic setbacks for Boeing, which vies with Europe’s Airbus for leadership of the $150 billion jet industry.

They ranged from a decision to halt production of the MAX, to a public slap-down from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a ratings downgrade and a space launch glitch on Friday.

Based on Boeing securities filings, Muilenburg may be eligible for nearly $39 million in severance. Boeing declined to comment on the figure or whether he would accept it.

Boeing said last month Muilenburg had volunteered to give up his 2019 bonus and stock awards. For 2018, his bonus and equity awards amounted to some $20 million, according to filings.

His dismissal received backing from Peter DeFazio, chair of the US House of Representatives’ transportation committee.

“It’s clear Dennis Muilenburg’s ouster was long overdue,” he said. “Under his watch, a long-admired company made a number of devastating decisions that suggest profit took priority over safety.”

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