Emirates calls for changes at Boeing as FAA demands improved safety plan

Airline president Tim Clark hints at 777X delivery delays as US regulator gives plane maker 90 days to come up with a proposal to boost quality on its production line

Emirates is the largest buyer of Boeing's 777X jet, whose delivery is expected in 2025 or 2026. AFP
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Emirates airline president Tim Clark has called for changes at Boeing after a series of technical snags in the past couple of months brought the regulatory focus back on the US plane maker.

Boeing has been given 90 days by the US Federal Aviation Administration to come up with a plan to improve quality and meet safety standards after the blowout of a door panel on one of its 737 Max planes in January.

FAA administrator Mike Whitaker told Boeing on Wednesday that he expects it to provide the FAA with a comprehensive action plan within three months that will incorporate the coming results of the FAA production-line audit and the latest findings from an expert panel report.

The FAA believes there was a “disconnect between the management and the safety system”, Reuters cited Mr Clark as saying at an event at the UK Aviation Club on Thursday.

“All this is something that some of us have been saying for a long time,” he said.

He also hinted at delivery delays for the first Boeing 777X jet.

“The 777X [delivery] is probably at the back end of next year and maybe 2026, if we’re unlucky,” Mr Clark said, as quoted by the newswire.

Dubai-based Emirates is the largest buyer of the roughly 400-seater aircraft, with a total of 205 Boeing 777X jets on order. While the aircraft was originally due to be delivered in 2020, Boeing expects to make its first delivery in 2025.

Mr Clark said at the Dubai Airshow in November that the first handover of the first 777X-9 aircraft for Emirates was scheduled for October 2025 while handovers of the 777X-8 were due to begin in 2030.

The airline placed an order for 95 additional Boeing 777X planes ­– the world’s largest twin-engine jets – along with 787 Dreamliners, valued at $52 billion at list prices, as part of plans to replace ageing aircraft and further expand its fleet.

"Emirates has already experienced several years of delays with the 777-9 and depends on it both for fleet renewal and growth," John Strickland, an aviation consultant with JLS Consulting, told The National.

"It is equally important in keeping average aircraft capacity at a higher level in the years ahead as the airline looks to retirement of its A380 fleet into the 2030’s. Any further delay into 2026 will require some re-planning of its schedules and capacity for the affected period."

Boeing has been scrambling to explain how the door plug on a brand new Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 blew out during flight.

The head of plane maker's 737 Max programme, Ed Clark, left the company last month amid intense scrutiny around production and safety measures following the January 5 incident, which led to the FAA grounding the Max 9 for several weeks.

Mr Clark, who had been with the plane maker for about 18 years, departed as Boeing vowed to improve production quality.

A previous crisis over fatal crashes in 2019 also led to a 20-month grounding of the Max aircraft, slowing certification of future planes, including the 777X.

The panel that flew off the Alaska Airlines jet appeared to be missing four key bolts, according to a preliminary report from the US National Safety Transportation Board in early February.

Alaska Airlines grounds Boeing 737 Max 9 for checks after emergency landing

Alaska Airlines grounds Boeing 737 Max 9 for checks after emergency landing

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” Mr Whitaker said this week, following the meeting with Boeing chief executive and president Dave Calhoun and his senior safety team.

“Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations,” he said.

“Boeing must take a fresh look at every aspect of their quality control process and ensure that safety is the company’s guiding principle.”

The US plane maker “really needs to do this”, said Emirates airline’s Mr Clark said in London. “Whether this means a change in the governance model, I don’t know. When you change the governance model, it invariably involves changing the people around the old governance model,” he said.

Updated: March 01, 2024, 12:19 PM