Just a few years ago, an aircraft-industry expert envisioning a possible “game over” future for Boeing would have been inconceivable.
Yet when new Boeing CEO David Calhoun took the reins Monday, that gloomy assessment — from respected analyst Richard Aboulafia — coldly laid out what’s at stake. Boeing’s apparent disastrous pursuit of profits over principles, via a cultural shift away from industry-leading safety standards, has brought a hard reckoning.
Following two crashes that killed 346 people, the revelations of shortcuts and obfuscation illustrate how badly Boeing lost its way. The stock price, which peaked at $446 just before the second crash last March, has dropped about 25% since then.
The public examination of the 737 MAX debacle revealed symptoms of corporate decline that should have triggered drastic change long ago. The 117 pages of internal messages from 2015-18 released Jan. 9 show how deeply mistrust and cynicism spread among Boeing employees. The frank worker-to-worker assessments of shoddy safety oversight, easily misled regulators and profit-driven haste add damning detail to Boeing’s existential crisis.
Calhoun and other Boeing leaders must restore the principled vision Boeing embraced for decades atop the world’s aviation industry. The voluntary release of the messages shows Calhoun and interim CEO Greg Smith comprehend the importance of openness.
Follow-through for a change agenda will be more difficult. Calhoun has been on Boeing’s board since 2009 and comes from high levels of the business world. The failures at Boeing trace back to a corporate disregard for thoroughly sound engineering practices. The hard path to redemption requires product investment and the restoration of functional federal oversight. Cost-cutting must take a back seat to reinstituting diligent processes that once won Boeing global admiration.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SEATTLE TIMES