Boeing said the head of its 737 programme is retiring, following a bruising few months during which the company’s entire fleet of 737 Max aircraft has been grounded following two fatal accidents.
Eric Lindblad, 57, took over the 737 programme in 2018 and has been at Boeing for 34 years, the aircraft maker said on Thursday. He will be replaced by Mark Jenks, who previously led the company’s 787 programme.
Kevin McAllister, Boeing’s chief executive of commercial aeroplanes, said in a message to staff: “I am grateful to Eric Lindblad for his strong leadership and tireless drive over the past 12 months leading the 737 programme, as he has navigated some of the most difficult challenges our company has ever faced.
“He shared with me his desire to retire last year, and we will now begin to embark on a thoughtful and seamless transition plan.”
Mr Lindblad has been in charge of Boeing’s 737 programme during one of the company’s most difficult periods. In March, all 371 Max jets being flown anywhere in the world were grounded following two accidents which killed a total of 346 people.
Since then, the company has been developing a software fix for the aircraft’s anti-stall system, which was implicated in both crashes but so far regulators have not signed off on the update to allow the aeroplanes to fly again.
Boeing is currently urging US regulators not to demand that pilots undergo full simulator training on the Max before they are allowed to fly it again, arguing a computer simulation would be adequate. Airlines say such a demand would cause significant delays, given there is only one airline-owned Max simulator in North America.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has not yet decided on what kind of training pilots will be required to undergo before returning to the Max.
Meanwhile Boeing continues to lose money. Earlier this year the company said it had lost $1bn in revenues during the first three months of the year as a result of the problems, while last week Flyadeal, a Saudi Arabian low-cost carrier, said it had cancelled its order for up to 50 Max jets worth $5.9bn.
The grounding of the Max jets is also taking its toll on some of the airlines that fly them. On Thursday the outgoing head of Norwegian Air said it would dent his company’s profits.
Boeing said Mr Lindblad’s retirement had nothing to do with the recent troubles with the Max. But it has the potential to cause further disruption while Boeing is still trying to satisfy regulators around the world that the Max is safe to fly once more.
Mr McAllister said in his message to staff: “These are unprecedented times for us, as our primary focus remains the safe return of service for the 737 Max and driving quality and safety in all that we do.”
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