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Boeing CEO steps down amid broader company shakeup

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Troubled plane-maker Boeing announced a major management shakeup today. CEO Dave Calhoun will step down by the end of the year. This is the latest fallout after that January incident when part of the fuselage ripped off a 737 Max jet in midair, renewing intense questions about quality control and safety at Boeing. NPR transportation correspondent Joel Rose is here with more. Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: It's not just the CEO going - right? - others, too.

ROSE: Yeah. Several top executives at Boeing are on the way out. As you said, Dave Calhoun, the CEO, will step down by the end of the year, also the chairman of the board, Larry Kellner. The company announced today that he will not seek reelection. And the head of the Commercial Airplanes division, Stan Deal, is retiring from the company, effective immediately. Calhoun will stay in order to, quote, "get the company back on the track towards recovery and stability, unquote." That's according to a letter to Boeing employees today.

KELLY: And for the CEO, is it clear, did he jump, or was he pushed?

ROSE: Calhoun said today that it was his decision to step down, but frankly, that is hard to swallow. Calhoun has been doing damage control for more than two months, ever since the incident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 in January, when a door plug panel blew out of a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet in midair. Calhoun spoke a few days later at an all-staff meeting. And here's some of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVE CALHOUN: We're going to approach this, No. 1, acknowledging our mistake with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way to ensure that this event can never happen again.

ROSE: Since then, federal investigators have found four bolts that were supposed to hold that panel in place were not there when the plane left Boeing's factory last year. The head of the National Transportation Safety Board also said Boeing has not been forthcoming during the investigation, which the company denies. Now the Justice Department has launched its own criminal investigation into the Alaska Airlines incident. Remember; Boeing has been under scrutiny for more than five years now since the two 737 Max 8 jets that crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing a total of 346 people. Calhoun was brought in to get the company back on track after that crisis.

KELLY: Right. OK. so back to this - the new developments of this big shakeup. What has been the reaction so far from the wider industry?

ROSE: Well, Boeing's critics say this move is long overdue. I talked today to Richard Aboulafia. He's a longtime aviation analyst. And he says for years, Boeing's leaders, including Calhoun, have been more focused on meeting production goals and boosting the stock price and less focused on building quality airplanes. Aboulafia says this change very clearly had to happen.

KELLY: It's a long road back. The most important thing is to transform the company's culture and to restore those links between the people at the top and people who design and build aircraft. That's going to take some time. But at least now, for the first time in years, there's hope.

ROSE: Aboulafia says a lot will depend on who the board ultimately picks to replace Calhoun.

KELLY: Last thing, Joel - the timing. Boeing has been under criticism, has been in crisis mode for years. So why now?

ROSE: It's not totally clear. Through all of this, Calhoun has stayed on message, insisting that Boeing will come out the other end as a better company. But there has been mounting pressure from Boeing's biggest customers, the airlines. Airline CEOs have begun in recent days to go public with some of their concerns about Boeing's response and the direction of the company. And The Wall Street Journal first reported that some of those airline CEOs were set to meet this week with Boeing's board of directors, and that Calhoun was not going to be there. After today's announcement, the stock market seemed lukewarm on this move. Boeing stock was up a little over 1% - still down, though, more than 20% for the year.

KELLY: NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.