Airlines group chief backs Boeing CEO to fix safety crisis

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 5:29 AM

By Lisa Barrington and Joe Brock

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Boeing’s CEO Dave Calhoun is the right person to lead the company out of its latest safety crisis, after a panel blew out of a 737 MAX 9 plane in flight last month, the head of the world’s biggest airline trade body said on Monday.

Boeing has come under fire from regulators, lawmakers and some airline bosses after the Jan. 5 incident on an Alaska Air flight sparked broader concerns over its manufacturing practices.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh said that while some in the industry were angry after the blow-out, Calhoun and his leadership team had done well to take responsibility and commit to finding solutions.

“Boeing are taking the right measures. I think they’ve responded much, much better to this than other events,” Walsh told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry summit in Singapore.

“I’ve heard people say you need a change in leadership. I disagree … I’m confident that he (Calhoun) will fix it.”

Walsh said he didn’t expect Boeing’s safety problems to result in airlines ordering fewer of the manufacturer’s planes or prompt passengers to avoid booking tickets with airlines that use the 737 MAX 9 aircraft.

Walsh was speaking a day before the start of the Singapore Airshow, Asia’s largest aviation event, where there is a buzz around the first trip outside Chinese territory for China’s homegrown passenger jet, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s (COMAC) narrow-body C919.

The C919, which is only certified in China where four are in operation, staged a fly-by in Singapore on Sunday.

Walsh said he expected the C919 would mostly be used for the large Chinese domestic market and it could take “decades” before China was able to produce a jet capable of competing with Boeing and Airbus on the international stage.

“It’s impressive and it’s going to be interesting to see but I think it will be a bit of time before they can be seen as credible competitors,” he said.

For months, the global aviation industry has been struggling with severe supply chain disruptions, as a post-pandemic travel boom after COVID-era layoffs and shutdowns caused delays to everything from engines to windscreens.

Walsh said the supply chain situation was “unprecedented” but slowly improving.

“It’s better today than it was this time last year, but it’s still a major problem.”

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Joe Brock; Editing by Mark Potter)