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Boeing Customers Sound Off Airline Executives Complain About Delays, Sloppy Work

Executives of European airlines scolded a pair of top Boeing Co. officials for production delays and errors, including an incident in which Boeing workers attached the wrong wing to a jetliner, a newspaper reported Friday.

The executives, who met privately with the Boeing officials earlier this month in Amsterdam, also complained about Boeing’s business practices and eroding customer support, The Seattle Times said.

Boeing officials conceded the company has made mistakes and damaged some planes during assembly. They declined to discuss specific incidents, saying those are private matters between Boeing and its customers.

By the time a customer takes delivery, they said, all problems that might have occurred during assembly have been resolved.

Boeing is winding up a two-year effort to more than double its commercial jet production rate. Simultaneously, it is working on nine new jetliner models, including five new versions of the workhorse 737. That’s resulted in parts and materials shortages, halts on two assembly lines, some delayed deliveries, heavy overtime and the need to train new employees.

The ongoing problems also have resulted in $2.6 billion in charges against earnings and a 1997 loss of $178 million, the company’s first annual loss in 50 years.

“I understand their feelings,” said Ron Woodard, president of Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, who met with the airline executives along with Fred Mitchell, BCAG executive vice president for production.

“We can really recognize their frustration and, if I were them, I would be really beside myself,” Woodard said. “We are trying to put our energy on the most important issues and getting them resolved. And we’re on the right track.”

Among the customers’ complaints was an instance in which Boeing workers in Renton fastened the wrong wing on a 737-400 for Air Berlin. A week later, they discovered it was a longer wing designed for another 737 model.

Some of the airline executives said they would have a tough time today persuading their boards to buy Boeing jets.

Many European airlines are under intense political pressure to buy from Boeing’s competitor, the European consortium Airbus Industrie.

“We all, in this group, feel like disappointed lovers,” one executive told The Times. “We were fighting for Boeing (in Europe), of course.

“If you then have people on the other side who do not care about your problems, that makes it difficult to justify staying with Boeing.”

The Times said the European customers have traditionally cited the superiority of Boeing planes, engineering and support.

But the newspaper said its sources at the meeting, who requested anonymity, said some European customers now think Boeing has been treating them “like the enemy,” refusing to share timely information on delivery delays.

“The biggest problem we have is, we tell Boeing our concerns and we feel as if no one is listening,” one executive said.

“Nowadays, you have the feeling Boeing people are frightened to tell the truth, to tell the negative news.”

Tags: business