Boeing appoints Conner new commercial aircraft chief

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Boeing has appointed a new chief executive for commercial aircraft as it maps the future of its next-generation 777 widebody family and takes on Airbus in a heated race for parity on narrowbody market share.

Ray Conner, 57, a 35-year veteran of Boeing's executive ranks and who began his career as a 727 mechanic, will assume control of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) from Jim Albaugh.

Albaugh, 62, will retire on 1 October after working since 1975 for Boeing or one of the companies it has acquired over the past few decades.

He will be succeeded at BCA's top post by Conner, an executive with experience as a programme manager, aircraft salesman and line employee.

"He is the next natural leader of our growing airplanes business," says Boeing chief executive and chairman Jim McNerney.

In a way, Conner's appointment restores a legacy Boeing employee to the top post within BCA, following an influx of executives transferred from the company's defence sector.

Albaugh came to Boeing's Seattle-based commercial business after spending his entire career working in the defence and space sectors. He was quickly followed by other top managers from defence programmes, including Scott Fancher, who now leads the 777 programme and formerly led Boeing's missile defence programme in Washington DC.

Albaugh arrived near BCA's most challenging period in more than a decade, with the 787 in the depths of a three-year delay for entry-into-service. Albaugh expanded BCA's manufacturing footprint to North Charleston, South Carolina, which is now the site of a second final assembly line for the 787.

Albaugh's decision-making was also critical in reversing the outsourcing strategy that Boeing now blames for many of the design and manufacturing problems encountered by the 787.

His successor will be responsible for recapturing Boeing's lead in sales for a next-generation narrowbody family. While Albaugh was focused on planning for a clean-sheet successor to the venerable 737, Airbus took the lead in narrowbody sales by launching the re-engined A320neo.

Nine months later, Boeing responded by launching the re-engined 737 Max family after abandoning plans for a clean-sheet 737 replacement.

Boeing intends the 737 Max hold at least a 50% market share with the A320neo, and that responsibility now rests on Conner's desk.