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With Boeing’s reputation at stake, CEO stays behind the scenes

February 25, 2013

As the cutting-edge jetliners that were supposed to be Boeing’s future instead sat grounded last month after battery fires and TV images of passengers sliding down escape chutes, CEO Jim McNerney disappeared to try to fix the problem rather than stepping forward to reassure the public, The Wall Street Journal reports.

McNerney had pushed development of the new 787 Dreamliner as a way to revitalize the troubled company, and now Boeing faces the biggest crisis of his eight-year tenure.

The 787 Dreamliner was designed to be a game-changing passenger jet — more fuel-efficient than its competitors, with a lightweight frame made of composite materials and an electrical system that runs on powerful lithium-ion batteries.

Boeing has submitted a proposal to the FAA seeking approval for modifications that it hopes will return the planes to the skies as early as mid-March. “This airplane is our near- and medium-term future, and ultimately speaks to our reputation and our brand,” McNerney tells the Journal.

But he’s been criticized for not better informing investors and the public about how he intends to solve the issue, “when there’s a lot of fear that this battery problem could be more than a minor glitch,” said aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia.

Kenneth Duberstein, lead director of Boeing’s board, insisted that McNerney “is doing exactly what he should be doing,” and that the chief executive is “out front right now with the constituencies that matter — the customers, the regulators, the employees and the suppliers.”

But while McNerney has led the company’s investigation, other Boeing executives have spoken publicly, such as the Dreamliner’s chief engineer Mike Sinnett, who has held conference calls with analysts, investors and the media. — Greg Beaubien


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