The head of Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX program is leaving as pressure mounts

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The head of Boeing‘s troubled 737 MAX program is leaving the company immediately as pressure mounts for the planemaker to address issues with production and safety after a door panel blew off one of its planes mid-air last month.

The departure also comes ahead of the five-year anniversary next month of the deadly 737 MAX 8 plane crash in 2019 that killed 18 Canadians and led to a global grounding of the troubled fleet, which has since lifted.

Ed Clark will leave his role as vice president and general manager of both the 737 MAX program and the Renton, Wash., production facility where the planes are made, according to an internal memo sent to employees on Wednesday and seen by Global News.

The memo sent by Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal announced several other immediate changes to the leadership team that Deal said are intended to drive Boeing’s “enhanced focus on ensuring that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality and safety requirements.”

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

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Boeing has been scrutinized for its production and safety procedures after the door panel, or plug, blew off a brand new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 on Jan. 5. Clark oversaw the company’s production facility in Renton where the plane involved in the accident was completed.

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Inspections of other 737 MAX 9s operated by Alaska and United Airlines, which were grounded after the blowout, found loose bolts on the same component of other planes. Initial findings from a U.S. National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) investigation into the incident found some of the bolts on the Alaska Airlines flight’s door panel may have been missing entirely.

No Canadian airlines operate the 737 MAX 9, but Air Canada and WestJet have partnerships with United and Alaska, respectively, to complete some cross-border and international routes.

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Clark is being replaced by Katie Ringgold, who previously oversaw deliveries of 737 MAX planes, according to Deal’s memo to employees. The memo was first reported by the Seattle Times.

“Ed departs with my, and our, deepest gratitude for his many significant contributions over nearly 18 years of dedicated service to Boeing,” Deal wrote.

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Boeing’s mid-air panel blowout has ‘shaken trust’ of travellers

Clark was tasked with leading the 737 MAX program in 2021, as the company was trying to recover from the grounding of 737 MAX 8 aircraft two years earlier after a pair of crashes that killed 346 people.

Emails, memos and briefing notes obtained by Global News through access to information law and published on Wednesday show three days of flurried activity at Transport Canada as the agency debated whether to ground the 737 MAX 8s.

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Those documents also raised more questions about how Transport Canada makes calls when it comes to which aircraft operate in Canadian skies.

Deal’s memo on Wednesday also announced Elizabeth Lund will fill a new role of senior vice president for BCA Quality, overseeing quality control and quality assurance efforts within Boeing and its supply chains.

The leadership changes come ahead of Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun’s planned meeting with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Mike Whitaker next week after the top aviation regulator travelled to Renton to tour the Boeing 737 plant.

Whitaker has raised concerns about Boeing’s safety protocols as the FAA probes the planemaker in the aftermath of the Jan. 5 incident, telling the U.S. House Aviation Committee earlier this month that Boeing’s internal safeguards may have failed and that its oversight system “is not working.”

According to the preliminary investigative report, the door plug on the Alaska Airlines flight was removed to repair rivet damage, but the NTSB has not found evidence the bolts were re-installed.

The panel is a plug in place on some 737 MAX 9s instead of an additional emergency exit.

— with files from Reuters

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