Boeing in the eye of the storm

The world-famous aeroplane maker is facing a reputational threat from a corporate scandal over safety, as orders and revenue lose altitude

A Korean Air Boeing 747 aircraft takes off before storm clouds at Gimpo airport, south of Seoul.
A Korean Air Boeing 747 aircraft takes off before storm clouds at Gimpo airport, south of Seoul.

Boeing in the eye of the storm

Bad news is continuing to land at Boeing, as one of the best-known names in corporate America and world aviation faces a crisis that has the potential to become the biggest in the industry's history. The firm has long been respected and is the largest aircraft maker in the world, but in recent years its planes have been involved in a series of accidents. And it has been accused of falsifying inspection records in their aftermath, jeopardising its reputation for transparent conduct and undermining faith in its safety standards.

Whistleblowers involved in those allegations have also suspiciously died. It all amounts to a wider sense of unease and has created unprecedented questions over the good name of the company—founded in 1916 by William Boeing— which went on to connect the five continents of the globe for over half a century, not least via its 747 Jumbo Jet, an icon of modern times.

Now, Boeing’s main regulator in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration, is investigating whether the company falsified records on inspections of the fuselages of several aircraft involved, which include the 787 Dreamliner, but are mainly focused on its MAX series. It follows revelations from now-deceased former employees that technical defects in the fuselages of some commercial aircraft were concealed.

Boeing's chief executive officer, Dave Calhoun, said: "Our full focus is on taking comprehensive measures to enhance manufacturing quality, including statements from the 737 employees who conduct these inspections daily." Addressing a US Senate hearing, he added: “I'm here today in the spirit of transparency to, number one, recognise the seriousness of what (happened), number two, to share everything I can. We don't put aeroplanes in the air that we don't have 100% confidence in."

However, Calhoun’s words were not enough to silence calls for his resignation. Under pressure from Congress and the media, he is leaving the company before the end of the year.

Diana Estefanía Rubio

Series of accidents

The top-level departure will come after Boeing’s most senior executives were forced to defend the company’s reputation after an unprecedented series of aviation accidents dating back to 2019 when Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX crashed, killing all its passengers in a tragedy that rocked the aviation industry.

Following similar accidents, Boeing was accused of negligence. The FAA mandated a thorough assessment of its aircraft, particularly the 737 MAX, which remained grounded for many months in airports in around 150 countries. Leasing of these models to airlines was also halted, as companies remained wary of them even after the end of the pandemic.

Even after the Congressional hearings, which were held in late January, several Boeing planes have experienced difficulties during takeoff and landing. The latest incident occurred in early May at Dakar Airport in Senegal. Passengers were injured when a Boeing skidded off the runway. The day before, the front wheel assembly of a Boeing cargo plane failed to deploy at Istanbul Airport.

Another serious incident took place in the US at Atlanta Airport. A wheel detached from a Delta Airlines 757 aircraft as it prepared to take off for Bogota, Colombia. A week earlier, the door plug of a 737 MAX broke off on a domestic flight between Portland Airport in Oregon and southern California’s Ontario Airport. Regulators grounded aircraft after this run of incidents, despite Boeing making a series of modifications to aircraft linked with safety deficiencies.

Boeing reported an annual loss of $2.2bn for 2023, stoking concern about its financial position amid its wider problems.


A former employee at Boeing's factory in Seattle made allegations of the concealment of technical data regarding defects in certain aircraft models. There were suggestions that there was pressure to silence staff. Allegations were made of unfair sackings, including of people who spoke out about potential technical flaws.

This was when Joshua Dean, along with other colleagues, was dismissed from the firm. He then died suddenly at the age of 46, despite being in general good health and taking part in regular exercise before an unusual illness struck. Another whistleblower, John Barnett, died by suicide in March, according to a police report.

The allegations of safety failings and negligence have led to the potential cancellation of large existing orders from major airlines. Boeing reported an annual loss of $2.2bn for 2023, stoking concern about its financial position amid its wider problems, which increasingly feel like a scandal, and scrutiny from the FAA and the media.

Boeing incurred annual losses of $5bn in 2022. Total losses over various years relating to grounded planes dating back to the Ethiopian plane crash are estimated to have reached around $18bn. But now there are some signs that these financial problems have bottomed out. Boeing's core business lost $1.6bn in 2023, narrower than the equivalent loss of $2.3bn in 2022 from that part of its operations. And revenue climbed by 30% last year to reach $34bn. The company aims to produce over 400 planes this year at a rate of around 38 per month.  

Diana Estefanía Rubio

The plans come at a time of vulnerability for the company. Its order list has declined. In the two months of the year, Boeing delivered 54 aircraft, second behind the 79 sent out by its European rival, Airbus.

Orders pile up

Nonetheless, global airlines are keeping faith with Boeing even as its sales fall. China has signed its first major contracts with the firm since before the pandemic, buying 737 MAX planes for five airlines, including Air China, China Southern, and Xiamen Airlines. In addition, Flydubai and Etihad Airlines of the UAE acquired modern Boeing Dreamliner aircraft for long-haul flights in the first quarter of the year.

Royal Air Maroc is also expecting the delivery of 12 new aircraft, including 737 MAX and Dreamliners, in the next months. The Moroccan airline intends to increase its fleet to 200 planes by 2030 in preparation to receive about 27 million tourists for the World Cup finals. Even after the manufacturer's problems, there remains demand for Boeing aircraft, giving it the potential to recover and rebuild its reputation.

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