Airline says Boeing is in 'last chance saloon,' cites ‘progressive decline’ in manufacturing

Emirates joined Alaska sending engineers to audit Boeing’s production lines

The president of UAE-based airline Emirates is warning that Boeing’s manufacturing processes have declined and that the company needs a course correction following a 737 Max 9’s loss of a door plug panel and the aircraft’s subsequent grounding for inspections.

Tim Clark, who has served as the president of Emirates since 2003, told the Financial Times that Boeing’s manufacturing quality has been in "progressive decline" and that has landed the aviation giant in "the last chance saloon." 

He added that Emirates is sending engineers to observe production processes for the 777 at Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, a key supplier in Boeing’s manufacturing network. In November, Emirates announced that it would order 90 Boeing 777 airliners while also adding five more 787 Dreamliners to an existing order.

"The fact that we’re having to do that is testament to what has happened. This would not have been sanctioned in the old days. You know, we trusted these people implicitly to get it done," Clark told the Times.

BOEING FLAGS POTENTIAL DELIVERY DELAYS AFTER LEARNING OF MISDRILLED HOLES IN SOME 737 MAX FUSELAGES

Emirates Boeing 777

An executive for Emirates, which flies Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners, said that Boeing's manufacturing quality is declined and it's at a crucial juncture. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Emirates will join Alaska Airlines in sending engineers to audit Boeing’s production lines to address potential issues. 

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Alaska will be monitoring the 737 Max 9 production line after one of its aircraft had its door plug panel fly off a Max 9 at 16,000 feet as it flew from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, on Jan. 5 — causing a cabin decompression that forced the airliner to return to Portland for an emergency landing, with no serious injuries reported. 

The door plug covers an emergency exit that is available for airlines to use on floor plan layouts that have larger passenger capacities.

BOEING CEO SAYS COMPANY HAS ‘MUCH TO PROVE’

United Airlines also announced that it will at least consider a new acquisition plan that excludes Boeing’s delayed 737 Max 10, which is still awaiting certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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ALK ALASKA AIR GROUP INC. 45.52 +0.51 +1.12%
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has said the company is working to restore the trust and confidence of its customers. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Boeing's president and CEO Dave Calhoun said during an analyst call for its recent earnings release on Jan. 31 that the company understands the frustrations of its customers and that it has to focus on restoring their confidence through action.

"We understand why they are angry and we will work to earn their confidence. There’s no message, no slogan that will accomplish that. It’s all about real, demonstrated action and absolute transparency every step of the way," Calhoun said. He added that the "increased scrutiny that comes from us or a regulator or from third parties will make us better. It’s that simple."

Calhoun also pointed out that Boeing has "taken close care not to push the system too fast, and we have never hesitated to slow down, to halt production, or to stop deliveries to take the time we need to get things right… but this accident makes it absolutely clear we have more work to do."

BOEING PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT AS ALASKA AIRLINES RESUMES 737 MAX 9 SERVICE

Alaska Boeing 737 Max 9

A plastic sheet covers an area of the fuselage of the Alaska Airlines N704AL Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft outside a hangar at Portland International Airport after it lost its door plug during a flight on Jan. 5. (Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images / Getty Images)

On Monday, the FAA announced that Alaska and United, the two U.S. airlines that operate the 737 Max 9, have completed inspections on nearly 94% of the Max 9’s in their fleets and those planes have been returned to service. 

The agency had lifted its grounding of the Max 9 fleet on Jan. 24 pending the completion of inspections that the FAA and Boeing outlined for the airlines. The inspections required a close review of specific bolts, guide tracks, and fittings along with detailed inspections of door plugs and dozens of associated components. 

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether bolts were missing on the plane that suffered the cabin door plug panel blowout. The FAA is also stepping up its on-site oversight of manufacturing lines at Boeing and its suppliers.

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The FAA said that 78 of 79 United Airlines Max 9 planes have been inspected and returned to service, while 57 of 65 Alaska Airlines Max 9 planes have returned to service. Alaska indicated that inspections on all of its Max 9 planes except for the one involved in the emergency will be completed by Tuesday.

Reuters contributed to this report.