A top United Airlines executive suggested the loss of experienced personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for Boeing’s recent string of problems.

United Airlines Executive Vice President Finance Gerry Laderman made the observation at the Airline Economics conference in Dublin, Reuters reported. 

“Experience counts, and they need to have a good experienced team righting the ship,” Laderman said.

“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,” he continued. 

“Principally the supply chain but also a lack of senior people and a lot of retirements: the knowledge base. That impacts everybody, and I think that is part of what happened at Boeing and … it will take time.”

Laderman said he would not comment on whether there should be management changes at the airplane manufacturer, according to Reuters.

Boeing’s 737 Max 9 jetliner in the company’s hangar. AP

Boeing has faced setbacks since a door plug on a 737 MAX 9 plane operated by Alaska Airlines blew off mid-flight earlier this month, which prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to ground all 737 MAX 9 planes pending a safety investigation. 

The apparent cause of the accident may have been missing bolts meant to secure the door plug in place when the aircraft left Boeing’s factory, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Since the incident, lawmakers have pressured Boeing to withdraw a request for a key safety exemption that could have allowed regulators to speed up certification of its forthcoming 737 MAX 7 plane. Boeing said it would do so on Monday.

The ongoing Airline Economics conference this week is being closely watched as key airline executives — many of whom are Boeing customers — react to the trouble at Boeing. 

Since the incident, lawmakers have pressured Boeing to withdraw a request for a key safety exemption for its next jet. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Conference delegates said Boeing’s decision raised questions about the timing of the larger and more widely sold MAX 10, whose certification had been expected a year after the MAX 7.

United, a leading operator of the MAX 9, has ordered 277 of the larger MAX 10 aircraft, for which Boeing has also been expected to ask for an exemption. 

CEO Scott Kirby has reportedly visited competitor Airbus to discuss the purchase of more A321neos amid the controversy with Boeing, Reuters reported.

A United Airlines executive said the loss of personnel throughout the pandemic may have contributed to Boeing’s problems. AFP via Getty Images

Laderman, who is set to retire after stepping down as chief financial officer, told Reuters he doesn’t keep track of Kirby’s travel anymore. He did note that AIrbus has also had delivery problems, with the A321neo in strong demand but low supply. 

“Yes there’s a Boeing issue. But keep in mind, for very different reasons, Airbus has issues too, related mostly let’s say to the supply chain.” 

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