A “critical” issue with a Boeing aircraft grounded Antony Blinken in Switzerland after his time at Davos. The irony: Blinken used to advise Boeing through his consulting firm, and his State Department has been very friendly to the company.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, during a conversation session on day two of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 17, 2024. (Hollie Adams / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

US secretary of state Antony Blinken was reportedly stranded at a global elite conference by a malfunctioning aircraft from Boeing, his former corporate client.

On his return from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday — where Blinken spent several days mingling with the global business elite — he boarded a Boeing 737 in Zurich, according to Bloomberg. But a “critical” issue with the aircraft instead grounded the secretary of state in Switzerland, and he was reportedly forced to fly home on a smaller jet.

The reported failure of the plane’s oxygen system is the third high-profile failure of a Boeing aircraft in the last two weeks, after a door plug blew out of an airliner over Portland, Oregon, on January 5 and then a Boeing 737-800 plane in Japan aborted a flight on January 13 after crewmembers found a crack in the cockpit window. Airlines have since reported finding loose bolts on other Boeing 737 MAX planes.

We recently reported on serious allegations from employees at Spirit AeroSystems, a key supplier for Boeing’s 737 program that manufactured the faulty door plug. Workers at Spirit said they were told to falsify records and hide safety issues, according to federal court documents. Additional reporting from us showed that despite unending safety scandals, Boeing has paid out hundreds of millions to its top executives and lobbied lawmakers in Washington to carve out safety exemptions for the company.

Boeing is now facing questions about its corporate management, as well as what critics say is an all-too-close relationship with top government officials and regulators.

Blinken’s Corporate Work

Before Blinken was sworn in as the United States’ top diplomat in 2021, he was advising Boeing at WestExec, a consulting firm he cofounded in 2017 that has close ties to the Biden administration. In Blinken’s 2020 financial disclosure, he reported providing advisory services to Boeing alongside other major companies including FedEx and AT&T.

Other key state department officials advised Boeing at WestExec, including Julianne Smith, currently an ambassador to NATO.

And in turn, former officials have gone to work for Boeing as executives. In April, the company announced it was bringing Steve Biegun, a deputy secretary of state from 2019 to 2021, on as a senior vice president — one of dozens of senior Boeing employees who have worked for federal agencies or as congressional staffers.

The State Department’s Division for Transportation Affairs plays a key role in global aviation standards, including through its policy arm, which says it “promotes adherence to the highest international standards” in commercial aviation. The agency also negotiates agreements that allow and facilitate commercial air services with other countries.

In 2021, Blinken pledged to recuse himself from matters related to Boeing. But the State Department he runs has remained an aggressive booster of the company, even after the 2018 and 2019 fatal crashes of Boeing aircraft and subsequent federal investigations into fraud and major safety lapses at the manufacturer.

Following the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet in 2019, Blinken’s predecessor, President Donald Trump’s secretary of state Michael Pompeo, told a reporter, “We need to get those airplanes back into the air not only so people can fly and have the transportation they need, but you know this: A lot of jobs all around Kansas depend on that 737 line continuing to crank on.”

Since then, Blinken’s State Department has helped Boeing broker major international manufacturing agreements, celebrating a $37 billion, 121-aircraft deal it helped facilitate between Boeing and Saudi Arabia in March 2023, as well as a similar deal with Air India that was finalized in June 2023.

In the first three quarters of 2023, Boeing spent $10.6 million lobbying the State Department, White House, Congress, Defense Department, and other agencies and regulators on international trade and supply chain issues as well as other matters, regulatory fillings show.

According to Bloomberg, while Blinken took a private jet back to Washington after the 737 mishap in Zurich, some of his aides were forced to fly commercial.

You can subscribe to David Sirota’s investigative journalism project, the Lever, here.

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