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Boeing elevates new safety czar to ‘sharpen company focus’ as 737 Max remains grounded

A Boeing 737 Max being built for Spain-based Air Europa rolls toward takeoff before a test flight in April at Boeing Field in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Hoping to mend the damage that a protracted and highly public crisis has done to its reputation for safety, Boeing is creating a new internal organization to manage safety-related activities across its major business units.

The new product and services safety organization was created as a result of a five-month review by the company’s board after two deadly crashes. The organization’s job will be to “elevate awareness and reporting of, and accountability for, safety issues within the company,” Boeing announced Monday.

The announcement suggests that Boeing is taking a hard look at its business at a time when the company’s internal processes and relationship with regulators have been under intense scrutiny.

Find past stories and information about the Boeing Max crashes and FAA grounding

“These changes will enhance our team and amplify our focus on safety, while benefiting our customers and operational performance, and intensify our focus on learning, tools and talent development across the company,” Boeing chief executive Dennis A. Muilenburg said in a statement.

The organization will be led by a new vice president of product and services safety, a 34-year Boeing veteran named Beth Pasztor, who is to report jointly to the company’s board of directors and chief engineer.

According to the company’s announcement, Pasztor will oversee the company’s response to anonymous safety reports and will be responsible for “investigating cases of undue pressure raised by employees.” She will also oversee the company’s accident investigation team, its existing safety review organizations and the network of individuals who are deputized by the Federal Aviation Administration to certify aircraft products. Pasztor most recently served as vice president of safety, security and compliance for the company’s commercial airplanes division.

Pasztor’s new role comes as the grounding of the 737 Max jetliner nears its seventh month. Boeing had pitched the Max as an even more reliable version of its best-selling commercial jet.

But the Max took a turn for the worse last October when a new Max 8 jet operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea soon after takeoff, killing 189 people. Several months later, another Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia under similar circumstances, killing 157.

Boeing later acknowledged that a new flight control system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) had played a role in both crashes. The FAA ordered that the jets be grounded and asked Boeing to develop a software fix and a new set of pilot training processes for MCAS, but the software remedy has still not been approved.

The impact on Boeing and its partners has been profound. Boeing lost $3.38 billion in its most recent quarter, the worst financial results in company history. Airlines have felt the pinch, too. The three airlines that had Max jets at the time they were grounded ― American Airlines, Southwest and United ― have been forced to cancel thousands of flights as a result of the crisis.

Even if the jets are allowed to fly again soon, Boeing will still face the challenge of convincing the public that its jets are safe to fly. A market survey released in early May by Barclays investment bank found that a large portion of Boeing’s customer base would avoid the Max jets for an extended period of time after the grounding order is lifted.