Boeing has announced that chief executive Dennis Muilenburg has stepped down “effective immediately” as it continues to deal with backlash from two fatal 737 Max crashes.

The manufacturer’s board said “a change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers and all other stakeholders”.

CFO Greg Smith will act as interim chief until current chairman David Calhoun takes up the role on 13 January.

The change in leadership comes as US lawmakers continue to question Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about what happened during the initial certification process for the 737 Max, which is still grounded after an Ethiopian Airlines crash in March this year. The accident followed an incident on a Lion Air flight involving the same model of aircraft. A total of 346 people died as a result.

FAA administrator Steve Dickson admitted to Congress that the regulator had made a mistake by not issuing a grounding order for the Max following the first crash despite its own analysis showing there was a risk of further accidents without changes to the aircraft’s systems.

At an earlier hearing, members of the Senate told Muilenburg they feared Boeing and the FAA put profit before safety, asking him if the company and the regulator “rushed to certify to Max”.

Boeing has been trying to save its image in the face of the tragedies, apologising at every opportunity for the deaths and reiterating that it is making changes to its internal processes to ensure a similar incident never happens again.

But in the meantime, whistleblowers have raised concerns about the pressure placed on engineering teams on other aircraft assembly lines, with one saying the company actively ignored his warnings about a flaw in the emergency oxygen system on the Dreamliner that could put lives in danger in the event of sudden cabin decompression.

Commenting on Boeing’s decision to oust Muilenburg, board member and new non-executive chairman Lawrence Kellner said: “On behalf of the board of directors, I am pleased that Dave has agreed to lead Boeing at this critical juncture. Dave has deep industry experience and a proven track record of strong leadership, and he recognises the challenges we must confront. The board and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the Boeing team to ensure that today marks a new way forward for our company.”

Calhoun added: “I strongly believe in the future of Boeing and the 737 Max. I am honoured to lead this great company and the 150,000 dedicated employees who are working hard to create the future of aviation.”

Boeing replaced Kevin McAllister as president and CEO of its Commercial Airlines division with Stan Deal earlier this year, but it recently announced it would temporarily halt production of the 737 Max in January to focus on a backlog of deliveries.

It is believed the 737 Max will be cleared to fly again early next year, but experts said they will still worry about the safety of the aircraft since the “safeguards that were designed to detect and eliminate design flaws failed”.

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