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U.S. airlines, fed up, forced change in the Boeing C-suite

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U.S. airlines, fed up, forced change in the Boeing C-suite | By: Jon Ostrower

In the end it was the CEOs of United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines who ultimately catalyzed a change in leadership at the top of Boeing.

The board of directors convened on a conference call over the weekend after a story in the Wall Street Journal reported that the chief executives of Boeing’s biggest U.S. customers were seeking meetings with Boeing’s board with CEO David Calhoun absent. That plan was designed to seek reassurance of Boeing’s trajectory “to get back on track” by United’s Scott Kirby, Southwest’s Bob
Jordan, American’s Robert Isom and Alaska’s Ben Minicucci with “no filter” of their views through Boeing’s CEO, according to interviews by The Air Current with multiple senior industry leaders and officials.

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“They didn’t want to get the defensive bulls***. They wanted the board to hear it directly through them” and not filtered through Calhoun and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, said one knowledgeable senior industry leader. This plan was solidified at an Airlines for America board meeting on March 7, according to three industry officials familiar with the meeting and the resulting plan. In seeking the meetings, which have not yet occurred and are planned for the coming weeks, they became a symbolic vote of no confidence in Boeing’s leadership.

Deal was notified Sunday of his firing — publicly couched as a decision to retire after 38 years with the company. Deal departs along with the board chair, Larry Kellner, former CEO of Continental Airlines, who won’t seek reelection at the May shareholders meeting, and Calhoun (already two years past the historical Boeing mandatory retirement age of 65), announced his
plans for year-end retirement after just over four years as CEO and 15 years on the board while
the company begins the search for a successor.

Just a few months ago Boeing seemed impervious to strategic change. “There is a strata at the top that’s in denial,” a top executive at a U.S. airline that flies hundreds of Boeing airplanes told TAC earlier this year. “I can’t tell them the emperor has no clothes.”

It is Boeing’s customers who, second only to the Federal Aviation Administration, have been pushing the hardest for strategic change at the aerospace giant. They have urged the company to retake the reins at Spirit AeroSystems, bringing that critical supplier back into the fold to rethink how it achieves stability in its overall industrial operation. U.S. airlines, fed up, forced change in the Boeing C-suite

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