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Boeing CEO Steps Down


We are following big news in the aviation industry this morning. Boeing's CEO is out. Dennis Muilenburg came under fire for his handling of two 737 Max crashes which killed nearly 350 people and led to the plane being grounded globally. NPR's Jim Zarroli is following this story and joins me now. Hi, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So walk me through this announcement. I mean, this was more than just announcing the departure of a CEO, right?

ZARROLI: Yeah. I mean, the company basically said this was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers and all other stakeholders. So Muilenburg had been really widely criticized for his performance in recent months after the crashes of these two planes. And it was really only a matter of time. There were some - long articles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times recently about his tenure, just a lot of criticism of it and kind of a feeling that he was a big part of the problem the company's had in recent months.

GREENE: Well, I mean, that's been an argument made for a while now, that he should be on his way out in the mind of many people. So I guess, I mean, one way to ask is, why'd it take so long, right?

ZARROLI: Yeah. I mean, I think - I don't know that it did take that long. I mean, this kind of unfolded quickly over a matter of months. This happened - the second plane crash happened in March. And he has since then made every effort to do what he was supposed to do. He appeared before Congress. You know, he apologized to the families. He sort of went through the motions, but they weren't considered enough.

He was also widely criticized for kind of indicating that the 737 Max would be back in the air by the end of this year, even though regulators hadn't said that. And there have been reports that they were sort of angry that Boeing was doing that. At the end - you know, this month, Muilenburg was forced to say, no, the plane won't be back up in the air this year. And we don't know when it will be up in the air.

And it was forced to announce last week that it was suspending production of the plane altogether. It had been building the 737 Max and sort of parking them in facilities in Washington State and Texas, thinking that once the plane was allowed in the air, they would be able to use them - airlines would be able to use them. That didn't happen. So the company last week said that it would have to suspend production altogether. And, you know, that's been a big problem not just for Boeing but for its customers, the airlines that have bought these planes.

GREENE: Jim, one of the central criticisms is that Boeing has basically been regulating itself, that Congress gave a company like Boeing way too much responsibility in the certification of its aircrafts. I mean, do you see a willingness for this company kind of in this moment of transition to acknowledge that and to do something about it? And if so, what would they do?

ZARROLI: Well, I think they're certainly making, you know, the right moves in that direction - or at least they say they are. In the statement today, they said that under David Calhoun, the new chairman and CEO, the company will operate with a new commitment to full transparency, including effective and proactive communication with the FAA, other global regulators and its customers. So I think Boeing realizes it has a problem with, you know, with the - especially with regulators, but also with the plane-flying public. And they're trying to do something about it.

GREENE: Jim, thanks so much.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

GREENE: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli reporting on the news in the aviation industry this morning. Boeing's CEO is out. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.