Better transparency needed on Boeing’s 1Q earnings call

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By Scott Hamilton


April 22, 2024, © Leeham News: Boeing reports its first quarter financing results on Wednesday. It’s not going to be pretty.

But how “transparent” will CEO David Calhoun and CFO Brian West be?

These days, “transparency” seems to be Boeing’s buzzword. It used to be “safety is our number one priority.” As we’ve seen about safety since the 2018-2019 737 MAX crisis, “safety” seemed more rhetorical than the Number One priority. “Safety” came under question again following the Jan. 5 accident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. That’s the flight in which an emergency exit door plug blew off the airplane at 16,000 ft. Luckily, nobody was sucked out of the airplane. There were minor injuries and damage throughout the cabin. The plane was a 10-week-old 737 MAX 9. A new crisis was underway.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) quickly determined that four bolts that hold the door plug on 12 brackets were missing after what Calhoun euphemistically called a “quality escape” weren’t reinstalled during the final assembly of the accident airplane.

Subsequent information, including a special six-week audit by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a year-long study that was released within a month of the Alaska accident concluded Boeing failed to meet dozens of safety standards. Even safety procedures announced by Boeing after the first MAX crisis were not being met.

Calhoun and others within Boeing vowed transparency. However, the expert panel that conducted the year-long study noted their work was inhibited by non-disclosure agreements limiting access to documents. They also noted that some Boeing employees met with company lawyers before being interviewed.

Transparency over latest charges

Boeing last week made two engineers available in a special media conference to refute charges by a whistleblower that safety failures continue to occur in the final assembly of the 777 and 787. The technical presentation was detailed and thorough. Assuming the information was not cherry-picked, Boeing painted a picture that the complaints were either unfounded or that Boeing had corrected many of the issues already. The in-service 777 and 787 fleets are safe, they said.

LNA’s Bjorn Fehrm, an aerospace engineer who remains active in this capacity in our consulting business, reviewed the Boeing presentation and our raw transcripts. He backs the safety of the airplanes.

There has been a “growing trend of quality erosion,” wrote aerospace analyst Ron Epstein in an April 11 note, citing the 787 industrial debacle and its three-month grounding by the FAA in 2013. “A lack of oversight has plagued the MAX program since inception.”

But transparency issues don’t stop there. And here’s something for Calhoun and West to address on Wednesday (not that they will take our urging to heart).

Advertised production rates on the 737 and 787 lines are far higher than the data suggests. But Boeing has failed to be forthcoming about the true rates—and it hasn’t for months. Cash flow data may be affected by a recurring practice that some call an accounting trick to distort this picture.

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