Eighteen-year Boeing veteran Ed Clark would be replaced by Katie Ringgold, according to a memo released by the company
Eighteen-year Boeing veteran Ed Clark would be replaced by Katie Ringgold, according to a memo released by the company AFP News

Boeing announced Wednesday that the head of its 737 MAX program is departing the aviation giant less than two months after a major safety incident temporarily grounded 171 planes.

Ed Clark, an 18-year Boeing veteran is "leaving the program," Boeing Commercial Aviation (BCA) chief Stan Deal said in a memo released by the company. Katie Ringgold has been named as his replacement.

The move comes after a 737 MAX operated by Alaska Airlines suffered a mid-flight blowout of an air panel on the fuselage on January 5, triggering an emergency landing with the plane left with a gaping hole in the cabin.

While there were no serious injuries, safety inspectors said the incident could have been catastrophic.

"Ed departs with my, and our, deepest gratitude for his many significant contributions over nearly 18 years of dedicated service to Boeing," the memo said.

Clark had ascended to the role in March 2021, shortly after a 20-month grounding of the MAX program following two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

In her new post, Ringgold's responsibilities include management of the Renton factory where the MAX is assembled, in the western US state of Washington.

The January 5 episode has led to enhanced scrutiny of Boeing by the Federal Aviation Administration regulatory body and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who plan hearings on the matter.

A preliminary investigation found that four bolts which help secure the panel were missing, the National Transportation Safety Board said February 6, describing the probe as "ongoing."

The FAA has said it is midway through its own six-week safety audit into Boeing. The agency in January 2023 also appointed a panel to undertake a "safety culture" review of Boeing that is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Boeing's response to the latest difficulty has included operational pauses at Renton and other sites to review safety and quality control procedures. It promised enhancements of efforts to bolster inspections of new planes prior to delivery.

Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun has accepted responsibility for the incident and promised transparency.

In addition to Ringgold's appointment, Boeing named Elizabeth Lund to the newly created post of senior vice president for quality in the commercial division.

The company also named Mike Flemming to succeed Lund as general manager for airplane programs, and Don Ruhmann to replace Flemming as vice president of development programs.

The leadership changes were needed "as we continue driving BCA's enhanced focus on ensuring that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality and safety requirements," Deal said in the memo.

"Our customers demand, and deserve, nothing less."

Michel Merluzeau, an aeronautics specialist with consulting firm AIR, said the newly-named executives were well regarded but that the company had experienced important departures during the pandemic.

"They've lost a lot of people," Merluzeau said. "The next level of leadership needs to mature."