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Boeing ousts head of 737 Max business after door-panel blowout

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Boeing is replacing the executive in charge of manufacturing its 737 Max aircraft, weeks after a door panel blew out of one of the planes on an Alaska Airlines flight.

Ed Clark, a vice-president and general manager of the Seattle-area factory where the 737 Max is built, is leaving the company with “my, and our, deepest gratitude” for his contributions to the company over nearly two decades, said Stan Deal, head of Boeing’s commercial plane division, in a memo to employees.

His ousting comes as Boeing encounters intense regulatory scrutiny over the incident in early January, when the door panel fell out of a 737 Max plane above the state of Oregon. A preliminary report by a federal safety regulator found the plane was missing four bolts meant to secure the door panel when it left Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington.

The US Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded the 737 Max 9 aircraft, the plane that was involved in the incident.

Clark will be replaced by vice-president Katie Ringgold, currently head of 737 delivery operations, Boeing said.

Clark’s departure was part a wider shuffling of positions in the commercial plane business. A new position in the division, senior vice-president for quality, will be filled by Elizabeth Lund, who currently oversees production of Boeing’s commercial jets. Reporting to Deal, Lund will oversee quality control initiatives.

The leadership changes, Deal said, are meant to drive “enhanced focus on ensuring that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality and safety requirements”.

“Our customers demand, and deserve, nothing less,” he added.

Regulators are auditing the manufacturing and quality control processes at Boeing and at Spirit AeroSystems, which supplies the fuselage for the 737 Max. Boeing also has opened its factories to inspections by airline customers.

No one was seriously injured in the blowout last month, and the preliminary investigation suggested the problem stemmed from production practices and inadequate quality inspections rather than faulty design. But the high-profile safety lapse revived concerns about safety after twin crashes of two 737 Max 8s in 2018 and 2019 that killed a combined 346 people.

Boeing chief executive David Calhoun has pledged to improve the company’s quality controls. The company has postponed giving full-year financial guidance as it navigates the crisis. “An event like this must not happen on an aeroplane that leaves our factory,” he said after the National Transportation Safety Board issued its preliminary report this month.

Shares of Boeing ended 0.9 per cent lower on Wednesday in New York.

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