United Exec Blames Boeing Disaster On Pandemic

A top official at United Airlines said that the pandemic is likely a big contributing factor to the recent problems that Boeing has experienced.

Speaking at an Airline Economics conference this week in Ireland, Gerry Laderman, the executive vice president of finance for United, said that the aviation industry has experienced a significant loss of experienced professionals ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

He said that could’ve been a major reason why Boeing has experienced its problems of late. He said:

“Experience counts, and they need to have a good experienced team righting the ship. Part of the problem for lots of industrial companies is nobody realized the difficulties that we were all going to get hit with as we came out of COVID.”

In addition to problems related to the global supply chain, Laderman said many senior people who worked in the airline industry retired over the last few years. When they retired, a significant amount of knowledge departed with them.

He explained:

“That impacts everybody, and I think that is part of what happened at Boeing and … it will take time.”

This week, Boeing said it would be withdrawing its request to gain a safety exemption for its 737 MAX 7 aircraft, which might have given regulators the ability to certify the aircraft faster than normal.

But, the aircraft maker decided that it would be best to withdraw that petition after lawmakers pressured them to do so.

On January 5, a Boeing-produced 737 MAX 9 suffered a cabin blowout while it was in the air. That incident sparked many quality control and safety concerns at the company, which is one of the leading jetmakers in the world.

The plane in question was being flown by Alaska Airlines. Investigators are still working to determine whether some bolts were either installed incorrectly or were missing altogether.

This week’s airline conference is being watched very closely by many people, as it could be a precursor to Boeing’s future. Laderman is considered one of the most influential buyers of jets made by Boeing, as he worked at Continental Airlines before the company merged in 2010 with United.

United is one of the leading operators of Boeing’s MAX 9 plane, which had to be grounded partially after the blowout for three weeks.

United had already ordered 277 of the company’s MAX 10, which is a larger aircraft. Many people in the industry expected Boeing to seek a similar safety exemption for that aircraft, though that might not happen now.

Laderman was asked about whether United would turn its attention to Airbus and its A321neos jet, following a Reuters report that said that the company’s CEO, Scott Kirby, opened negotiations with Airbus recently.

But, Laderman largely deflected that question, responding:

“I don’t keep track of his travel anymore. … I do know that he’s in the (United) leadership conference today.”

Laderman stepped down from his CFO role at United and is expected to retire in the near future.