Boeing has had a very bad year, and now heads are starting to roll. The company’s board of directors has fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg, whose tenure at the firm has covered the years leading up to a pair of fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX aircraft. Aviation authorities around the world have grounded the plane, and ongoing investigations suggest Boeing may have cut corners in testing and regulatory oversight. At the same time, the company has seen numerous delays in the development of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Muilenburg became CEO of Boeing in 2015 after previously being president of the company. That’s the same year when the company’s engineers began wondering if a single angle of attack (AOA) sensor failure in the company’s new 737 MAX aircraft could cause problems with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). This system is supposed to lower the nose of the plane when it detects a high AOA. However, MCAS can malfunction and essentially force a plane into an unintended dive.
Boeing has failed to properly address the 737 MAX issue ever since the first fatal crash in October 2018. A second crash in March of this year led to the grounding of all 737 Max aircraft. Between the first Indonesian and second Ethiopian crash, a total of 346 people have died. MCAS has been implicated in both crashes, and regulators haven’t signed off on proposed software changes aimed at getting the planes in the air again. In fact, the FAA took the unusual step of publicly chastising for pushing to get the planes recertified so quickly. The agency may have been looking to distance itself from the company after accusations that it allowed Boeing to do too much safety testing on its own terms.
The writing was probably on the wall for Muilenburg several months ago. The board voted to separate the roles of Chairman and CEO in October, but it allowed Muilenburg to continue on as CEO at the time. With the latest board action, Muilenburg has been removed from his post effective immediately. He’ll be replaced as CEO by Chairman David Calhoun on January 13th. Current board member Lawrence Kellner will take over as chairman of the board, again, keeping those two roles separate.
Boeing hasn’t made any statements about Muilenburg’s compensation as he leaves the company, but he did wave his 2019 bonus in November as the 737 scandal dragged on. He continues to serve on the boards of several companies and foundations.