United CEO speaks out on Boeing, says 5 incidents in a month ‘have our attention and have sharpened our focus’



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United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby is trying to assure customers that he is monitoring closely after five separate clustered incidents involving Boeing planes have left customers rattled.

Over the past month, Boeing planes operated by United have lost a tire, run off the runway, spilled hydraulic fluid midflight, and spouted flames from the engine. Most recently, a Boeing plane was discovered upon landing to be missing an “external panel.”

“Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, our airline has experienced a number of incidents that are reminders of the importance of safety,” Kirby said in the statement. “While they are all unrelated, I want you to know that these incidents have our attention and have sharpened our focus.”

In the Monday statement, Kirby said the company is reviewing each of the incidents and highlighted already planned measures such as adding an extra day of in-person training for all pilots starting in May and dedicating more resources to “supplier network management.”

Some aviation experts have said the airline incidents such as those affecting United’s Boeing planes are more common than consumers might think and that United may share some of the blame with Boeing, the manufacturer. Still, there is heightened attention now around all things Boeing. United did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the incidents.

In January a door plug flew off a Boeing 737-9 MAX mid-flight, leading to heightened scrutiny of Boeing by regulators and a large-scale grounding by the FAA that drastically affected United, one of its biggest customers. 

United warned that it would report a larger-than-expected loss due to the grounding, and Kirby made it clear in a January interview with CNBC that he was “disappointed” in Boeing. 

“We need Boeing to succeed. But they’ve been having these consistent manufacturing challenges,” he said. “They need to take action here.”

The United CEO added in a subsequent call with investors that he doesn’t expect United to ever receive many of the more than 200 of the newest model of Boeing 737 MAX that it originally expected to be delivered in 2020, and has adapted its future plans accordingly.

“Boeing is not going to be able to meet their contractual deliveries on at least many of those airplanes. And let’s leave it at that.”

United is now looking to Boeing competitor Airbus to replace 737 MAX 10 orders that are five years behind schedule, Bloomberg reported citing people familiar with the matter.

Several other airlines, including Southwest and Ryanair are looking for alternative aircraft as Boeing’s 737s continue to face delays. Boeing did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment. 

Meanwhile, some travelers are looking to rearrange their travel plans to avoid Boeing Max jets, of which United has ordered hundreds.

For now, United and Kirby are working to allay travelers’ concerns over the Boeing planes that make up a large part of their fleet.

“You can be confident that every time a United plane pulls away from the gate, everyone on our team is working together to keep you safe on your trip,” Kirby said.

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