Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief engineer John Hamilton, who was appointed in March to lead its response to the deadly 737 MAX crashes and testified before Congress alongside CEO Dennis Muilenburg, is retiring, the company informed employees Wednesday.
The news was conveyed in an internal memo from the new head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Stan Deal, and Boeing’s chief engineer, Greg Hyslop.
“John had planned to retire last year, but we asked him to stay on to help us with the 737 MAX investigations and return to service efforts,” they wrote. “We are immensely grateful to John for lending his expertise and leadership during a very challenging time.”
Hamilton, 58, took center stage alongside Muilenburg at two contentious Congressional hearings last month. In the second of those, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., presented internal Boeing documents indicating that, long before the MAX was certified, some Boeing engineers expressed worry internally about the flight control system that went wrong on the two crash flights.
Hamilton said he wasn’t aware of some of the documents and said the revelations should be interpreted as evidence of an open culture at Boeing in which engineers could raise questions.
Though that five-hour grilling of Hamilton and Muilenburg raised new questions and brought calls for the CEO’s resignation, Boeing since then has stuck to its contention that its software fix for the MAX is almost ready and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might give it clearance for a return to service by year-end.
Many industry observers now think January is more likely for initial FAA approval, and that it will be several months after that before passengers fly on the plane in the U.S.
Hamilton joined Boeing in 1984 and his career covered multiple airplane programs and roles, including serving as chief project engineer for the 757, the 737 NG (the model prior to the 737 MAX), and the Navy’s 737 variant for hunting submarines, the P-8A.
From April 2016 through March, Hamilton was vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, responsible for all the company’s engineering design and airplane-certification work, including the final certification of the 737 MAX.
Hamilton also led Boeing’s Aviation Safety organization. At an air safety conference in Seattle in November 2018, less than two weeks after the first crash, Hamilton shared his own experience of personal dread at news of an airline accident. His wife is an Alaska Airlines flight attendant who on Jan. 31, 2000, was flying out of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. When Hamilton heard that Flight 261 out of that city and bound for Seattle had crashed, he feared she was among the 88 killed. He found out later she was on a different flight.
Hamilton will be replaced by Lynne Hopper, who in March took over his role as vice president of Engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Boeing said that in addition to leading the Commercial Airplanes engineering team, she will support the efforts to return the MAX to service and work closely with the company’s centralized Safety organization that was created in September, led by Beth Pasztor.
Previously, Hopper was the vice president of Boeing Test & Evaluation, where she was responsible for laboratory and flight-test operations in support of certifying Boeing commercial and military jets.
From 2004 to 2007, Hopper led the development of delegated authorized representatives, the Boeing employees who work on behalf of the FAA to certify airplanes. The role of these authorized representatives and the entire regulatory system of delegating oversight to Boeing has come under intense scrutiny following the MAX crashes.
Hamilton’s departure follows the retirement in July of Eric Lindblad, the Boeing vice president who ran the Renton assembly plant and managed the 737 MAX program. Boeing likewise insisted then that Lindblad, highly regarded as a factory operations expert, had expressed his desire to retire the previous year, before the crashes.
This story was updated Dec. 5 to include Hamilton’s age and the year he joined Boeing.