BORN IN SEATTLE in 1916, Boeing grew into a champion of American engineering greatness. As former top executive Gordon Bethune put it, for generations of families in the Pacific Northwest, Boeing was “probably the most honest, reputable, best company you would ever work for.”
Just three years ago, Boeing’s stock was at record levels, and then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg was confident of soaring toward greater heights.
Projecting a never-ending boom in the world’s airliner business, Muilenburg repeatedly declared: “Our aspiration is no longer to be just the best in aerospace. We have to be a global industrial champion.”
Since then, that vision has collapsed piece by piece.
The two crashes of the 737 MAX killed 346 people and destroyed the trust Boeing enjoyed with aviation regulators, who grounded the jet worldwide for more than 21 months.
Deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner have been paralyzed by manufacturing defects for more than a year.
The 777X flight test program is so far behind schedule that this latest new jet won’t get certified before late 2023 at the earliest.
The Air Force repeatedly found debris inside its 767-based aerial tanker. Boeing’s Space program is stalled, embarrassed by the upstart SpaceX.
Since the crashes, nothing has gone right for Boeing.
“How did a company that had prided itself on its engineering prowess, that had perfectionism in its DNA, go so wildly off course?”
That’s the question Peter Robison asks and answers in his new book, “Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing.”
Robison covered Boeing directly as Bloomberg’s aerospace beat reporter for four years until 2002, and he continued to follow the jetmaker’s fortunes thereafter as Seattle bureau chief and more recently as an investigative reporter.
Drawing on extensive interviews with a broad array of Boeing sources, he documents the strategic missteps that — long before the MAX crashes — produced the steady decline in Boeing’s proud engineering culture.
Today’s excerpt covers a key period, from the critical shift in leadership thinking under CEO Phil Condit to the exit of engineering favorite Alan Mulally.
Last year, Boeing was hit by a staggering external blow, even as it struggled to recover from its self-inflicted wounds. The historic pandemic-induced downturn in business loaded the company with debt and forced it to slash jobs. Droves of experienced employees walked out the door.
Can Boeing recover? Robison’s book provides a stark analysis of what needs to change.