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"I believe in this airplane": Boeing's new CEO says 737 Max to fly again this year

Boeing CEO fired after turbulent year
Boeing CEO fired after turbulent year 02:23

Eight days into his new role as president and CEO of Boeing, David Calhoun spoke with group of reporters via conference call from Seattle where he expressed certainty that the grounded 737 Max will fly passengers again this year.

"I believe in this airplane," Calhoun, 62, said. "I'm all in. The company is all in and, I believe, the FAA is all in on it."

Calhoun was in Washington state to visit Boeing facilities and participate in a company-wide webcast to address employees a day after Boeing announced it does not expect the Max to return to commercial airline service until mid-2020. Calhoun said that prediction is driven largely by the company's decision to require simulator training for pilots and based on the progress made so far during a complicated FAA certification process.

This summer gives Boeing "enough time in with our discourse [with the FAA and foreign regulators] at every level, so we get to the answer sooner than later," Calhoun explained.

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David Calhoun, Boeing's president and CEO Boeing / Handout

He acknowledged the certification process for the Max has been an evolving one that has seen added scrutiny come up along the way which has made predicting its completion challenging. He believes the level of scrutiny being applied to the Max will be reflected in all future airplane approvals and it will be on Boeing to restore faith in the 737 family. The company said it will not change the plane's name.

"Certification of the 737 Max will become the template for future approvals," he told reporters. "It will be the most thorough process I've ever been through."

Boeing will not pursue a marketing campaign around the plane's return to service, instead focusing on earning back the trust of flight crews and by winning "one pilot at a time."

Boeing's past predictions of return to service have all been wrong, and Calhoun believes it has contributed to Boeing's damaged credibility.

"We created our own problem," he explained, adding the continued missing of artificial deadlines "kept creating a bigger problem."

How Boeing CEO's firing impacts industry 03:13

During the call, details emerged about the decision to fire former CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

"These are hard things," Calhoun said. "It was a nine month trial by fire."

In November, the company had set a December 31, 2019, expectation for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval. That messaging infuriated FAA administrator Steve Dickson, who instructed its employees to take as much time as they need; it quickly became clear Boeing would yet again miss its own deadline.

"Not only did we miss, we missed by a lot," Calhoun said.

When Boeing's board of directors met at the end of December, it was clear Muilenburg had lost their confidence.

"All of us were praying Dennis could get through this," Calhoun said.

Muilenburg was ousted December 23; his retirement package is worth an estimated $62.2 million.

In January, Boeing halted production of the 737 Max. Calhoun expects production of the troubled airliner — grounded since March after two deadly crashes killed 346 people — to resume before the plane returns to service and work by suppliers could start in the coming months. Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems began its layoffs of 2,800 employees Wednesday. The Wichita-based builder of the Max's fuselage counts on its production for more than half its business.

Boeing to temporarily halt 737 Max production... 02:09

Boeing is using the down time to make changes to its production process for the 737 Max. A former Boeing manager at the Renton, Washington-based plant that builds the Max told Congress he had concerns the production pace was putting pressure on employees and forcing work to be done out of order raising the possibility of safety lapses.

Earlier this month, a batch of employee emails showed efforts to talk Lion Air out of simulator training more than year before Flight 610 crashed off the cost Indonesia. Those emails shows contempt for regulators, the company, the airplane and for coworkers.

Calhoun called the messages "totally appalling" and written by "a micro-culture" inside Boeing. He declined to discuss disciplinary actions taken against the employees involved but promised any further similar behavior would be quickly addressed.

"I don't think the board was aware until too late in the game," he said.

Boeing emails mock 737 Max problems 01:50
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