Boeing 737 Max chief to retire amid executive shuffle

A Boeing 737 MAX 9 test plane is pictured at Boeing Field n Seattle, Washington. (Getty pic)

CHICAGO: Boeing Co said 737 programme chief Eric Lindblad is retiring after about a year in the post, triggering a leadership shuffle for another high-profile project: a proposed midrange jetliner.

He’s the second head of the 737 programme, Boeing’s largest source of profit, to leave the job in less than two years. The 34-year Boeing executive took charge of the manufacturing site in Renton, Washington, as the US planemaker struggled with late deliveries of engines and other components.

More recently, he’s weathered the global grounding of the best-selling Max following fatal crashes in October and March.

Lindblad, 57, “shared with me his desire to retire last year, and we will now begin to embark on a thoughtful and seamless transition plan,” Kevin McAllister, who runs the planemaker’s US$60 billion commercial division said in a message to employees Thursday.

Boeing’s single-aisle programme will be run by Mark Jenks, who headed all aspects of a proposed aircraft known within Boeing as NMA, for a new midmarket airplane.

Jenks had previously helped stem losses on the 787 Dreamliner programme and turned the advanced jet into a major generator of cash for the Chicago-based manufacturer.

Jenks faces the logistical challenge of returning the 737 Max to flight once it is cleared by regulators.

More than 500 of the planes are currently stored around the globe, including about 150 newly built models that haven’t been delivered to airlines because of the March 13 flight ban.

The planemaker’s plans to develop a new jet – which would fill the market gap between the smallest wide-body planes and the largest narrow-body aircraft – have been in question since the Max was grounded.

Executives have halted product strategy decisions while they deal with the crisis, and some analysts have suggested the project should be scrapped for a 737 replacement.

McAllister has handed control of the NMA to another high-profile executive: Mike Sinnett, who will continue to lead the product strategy and future airplane development team.

Sinnett will still brief customers and others on technical aspects of the Max, including software linked to the crashes.

“Let me be clear – the NMA team will continue to operate as a programme, and I am looking forward to Mike’s leadership in this important effort,” McAllister said. Sinnett served as vice president and chief project engineer for the 787 programme in 2013 when the Dreamliners were grounded globally for three months after two batteries incinerated.

Boeing was little changed after the end of regular trading in New York. The stock had gained 1.9% to close at US$359. Even with the planemaker’s travails, the stock is up 11% year-to-date.