After a 34 year career at Boeing, the project manager for the Boeing 737 family of aircraft, Eric Lindblad, will retire from the company, according to a memo first reported by Reuters. The 56-year-old executive will be replaced by Mark Jens, currently in charge of Boeing’s New Midsize Aircraft (NMA) scheduled to be launched by 2025.
Although the memo does not specify reasons for departure, Lindblad has been light necked. Less than a year after taking over the post as 737 project manager, two Boeing 737 MAXs suffered fatal crashes and costing 346 lives. The incidents were deemed to be related to the jet’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) issues causing the plane’s nose to slope downwards based on erroneous sensor information supposed to act when the aircraft’s angle of attack is too high.
As Boeing was ready to release a software update that would fix issues in its MCAS onboard the MAX, Federal Aviation Administration tests revealed new issues with the jet’s microprocessors. With the FAA having been heavily criticized for the lack of scrutiny in the 737 MAX certification process, it is expected that America’s aviation regulatory entity will rigorously audit processes to re-gain its condition as a trustworthy auditor and hence, ensure the MAX is one of the safest planes to fly once it’s back in the skies.
As Boeing is striving to fix this issues, the American manufacturer is facing significant trust issues from operators and the broader public around the world, with airlines extending Boeing 737 MAX groundings across and beyond the busy summer period. American Airlines, for example, estimated the type’s grounding costs to exceed $185 million from the grounding of its 24 aircraft, causing the cancellation of more than 7,800 flights. Southwest, on the other hand, the largest 737 MAX operator with 34 aircraft, has had to cancel 4 percent of its summer peak schedule until October.
These issues, halting trust in Boeing over perceived safety, but most importantly short term reliability has caused some airlines to re-evaluate orders in the urge for aircraft short term reliability to sustain operational growth. Such is the case of new Saudi Arabian low-cost carrier FlyDeal canceling orders for 30 Boeing 737 MAX and replacing them with 30 A320neo orders from parent carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Lindblad’s departure after merely a year overseeing Boeing’s single-aisle aircraft program and in the midst of one of the most painful crises in the history of the company was somewhat to be expected. The future of the currently fragile 737 program will be in charge of Mark Jens. According to Bloomberg, the American executive worked to turn around the 787 program and helped mitigate the crisis generated by the widebody aircraft’s lithium battery fire issues in 2013.
These shuffles around Boeing’s management can undoubtedly delay the launch of the much awaited and already delayed Boeing New Midsize Aircraft project. With Jen moving posts, the job to lead the new project has been given to Mike Sinnett, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president for product development and future airplane development, in addition to his current role.
However, as Boeing continues to design and build its new airframe, Airbus has already logged in more than 200 orders for its newly launched A321XLR at the recent Paris Air Show. With an extended range of 4,700 miles, improved fuel economics and commonality with the rest of the A320 family line, the jet is set to be a game changer for the global aviation panorama and airlines seem to be proving this right.
Boeing has the challenge to set a new bar for range, flexibility, versatility and fuel efficiency a with single-aisle aircraft in the NMA. Though while the manufacturer appears to have lost this round, the goal is making operators come back for the NMA in the future.
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