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Safety, not future numbers, focus of Boeing earnings call

Boeing had its latest earnings call with investors today – usually, this would be the time to announce a financial outlook for the year ahead.
Safety, not future numbers, focus of Boeing earnings call
Posted at 7:13 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 21:14:26-05

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun opened Wednesday's 4th-quarter 2023 earnings call with a promise that safety and quality are at front of mind — so much so that Boeing did not give investors a full-year financial forecast.

"Now is not the time for that. We won't predict timing. We won't get ahead of our regulator," Calhoun said. 

Michael Bruno is the executive editor for business at Aviation Week. While the investigation into the Jan. 5 Max 9 door plug incident continues, he says the industry's quality concerns about Boeing did not start then. 

"It's disappointing to stakeholders at Boeing. It's disappointing to the suppliers," Bruno said. 

Some industry analysts believe the once-renowned engineering culture of the 20th century at the company hasn't survived in the new millennium.

That's when Boeing acquired a smaller competitor, and some argue that's when leadership switched to being financially motivated over quality.

"I don't think anybody in Boeing would ever say that they took their eye off quality. But the problem, of course, is you can't have more than one top priority, right? You can have multiple priorities, but only one can be the top priority. And by all intents and purposes, by every casual observation, Boeing's top priority has been financial for many, many years," said Bruno. 

Recently, media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times quote anonymous sources who say that critical bolts in the door plug that blew out were never put back after production at the Renton plant.

SEE MORE: Another airline takes Boeing airplanes out of rotation

While the NTSB hasn't come out with its findings, Boeing said in its meeting that the company is responsible for the problem.

This accountability, paired with refraining from giving a full-year outlook, Bruno says is a step in the right direction.

"It may be an indication that they're putting their attention where it needs to be, which is baseline production, quality control, working with providing information to regulators, Congress and the public," he said. 

Chad Kendall is a former pilot and aerospace professor at Metro State University in Denver, teaching the next generation of airline executives. He says that since the door plug blew off the Alaska Airlines-owned 737 Max 9, there have been some important discussions that have come up in the classroom. 

"The discussions start with commitment to culture: How do you start and build safety culture in a company? What are core values? How do you understand your responsibility within those core values? And then, more importantly, a proactive leadership response, not only in the face of  a little bit of scrutiny, but from the beginning to make sure that you have public trust in mind," he said. 

He says that while Boeing may have made mistakes, fixing them isn't just good for executives' bottom line, it's crucial for the American economy and the global aerospace industry. 

 "Boeing has had a storied history of producing fantastic airplanes. I believe that they will continue to do that. It's important for our country that they continue to do that," said Kendall. 


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