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Emirates boss says Boeing needs strong CEO to end crisis

FILE PHOTO: Emirates Airline Boeing 777 planes at are seen Dubai International Airport

By Tim Hepher and Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) - The head of Dubai airline Emirates urged Boeing to pick an engineering and business heavyweight to lead a deep overhaul of the U.S. aerospace giant and said the task of ending the planemaker's recent confidence crisis "must get done".

"Is it fixable and salvageable? Yes, it is. Will it get things back to where it needs to? It must. And you'll only do that with very strong leadership, who are fixated on doing the right thing," Emirates Airline President Tim Clark told reporters on the sidelines of a major airlines summit.

Turning round the manufacturer after a series of safety and industrial problems, to the point where it can meet existing and new demand smoothly, may take five years, he said.

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Emirates is the world's largest buyer of long-haul jets to feed its Gulf hub.

Boeing is looking for a new CEO after announcing that Dave Calhoun would step down by the end of the year following back-to-back crises exacerbated by the blowout of a loose door plug on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 jet in January.

Clark, who has been one of Boeing's severest critics during the crisis, told Reuters he had never met Calhoun, who was appointed CEO in January 2020 following a pair of 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed nearly 350 people.

Boeing had no immediate comment on his remarks.

In December, Boeing named Stephanie Pope to the newly created position of group-wide chief operating officer in a move seen at the time as positioning her as a leading contender to take over from Calhoun at some point in the next few years.

Asked what he would like to see in a new Boeing CEO, Clark said: "I think that people who have got a really broad aerospace engineering capability, who are good business managers as well, are the people that you need to bring back and sort this one out. Whether Stephanie Pope is going to be able to step up and do that (as well as) anybody, time will tell".

He added: "But we need airplanes, we cannot face constant delays. We've got a business to run and if we're having to foot the bill for refurbishing all these (existing) airplanes it should be put at Boeing's door."

Emirates, the largest operator of the 777 family, is carrying out what it calls the largest cabin refurbishment on existing planes as it awaits the first delivery of the Boeing 777X, delayed by at least five years from 2020.

Clark said Boeing could not yet give a precise date for the plane's first delivery. It has said it will be in 2025.

Clark said he planned to meet Pope in her capacity as Boeing's recently appointed planemaking chief on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association being held in Dubai over the next two days.

The unit Pope previously led, Global Services, was Boeing's only profitable division in the first nine months of 2023.

In March, in the wake of the blowout incident, it announced Calhoun's earlier-than-expected planned departure and named Pope as head of its Commercial Airplanes division, replacing Stan Deal who was fired as part of the same shake-up.

Analysts say Pope continues to be cited in some quarters as a contender for the CEO role alongside several outside contenders including Spirit AeroSystems CEO Pat Shanahan.

(This story has been corrected to say 'date' not 'delivery' in paragraph 12 and 'Clark' not 'Emirates' in paragraph 13)

(Editing by Hugh Lawson, Susan Fenton and Ros Russell)