United exec says loss of skills may have contributed to Boeing problems

By Tim Hepher

DUBLIN (Reuters) – A senior United Airlines executive highlighted the widespread loss of experience in the aviation industry since the COVID-19 pandemic and said it may have contributed to recent problems at Boeing.

“Experience counts and they need to have a good experienced team righting the ship,” Executive Vice President Finance Gerry Laderman told the Airline Economics conference in Dublin.

“Part of the problem for lots of industrial companies is nobody realised the difficulties that we were all going to get hit with as we came out of COVID,” Laderman said.

“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 planemaker.

Boeing said on Monday it was withdrawing a request for a key safety exemption that could have allowed regulators to speed up certification of its coming 737 MAX 7.

Lawmakers had been pressuring the planemaker to withdraw the petition following a mid-air cabin blowout on Jan. 5 on a 737 MAX 9 that has exposed numerous safety and quality control concerns at one of the world’s two major jetmakers.

Investigators are examining whether bolts were missing or incorrectly installed on the Alaska Airlines jet.

The reactions of influential executives like Laderman, who is seen as one of the most prolific buyers of Boeing jets having started at Continental before it merged with United in 2010, are being watched closely at this week’s air finance gathering.

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 is a leading operator of the MAX 9, which was partially grounded for three weeks following the blowout.

It has also ordered 277 of the larger MAX 10, for which Boeing has also been expected to ask for an exemption.

Laderman deflected a question on efforts by United to secure more competing A321neos after Reuters reported that CEO Scott Kirby had recently visited Airbus to open negotiations.

I don’t keep track of his travel anymore … I do know that he’s in the (United) leadership conference today,” said Laderman, who is shortly due to retire after recently stepping down as chief financial officer.

The A321neo is in strong demand with few available soon. Laderman said Airbus also has its share of delivery problems.

“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.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Conor Humphries and Mark Potter)

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