WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) - Boeing Co said on Friday it was rotating five executives in its commercial airplanes division, including Mike Sinnett, the chief engineer on the company's 787 Dreamliner, which was banned from flight earlier this year after its battery system showed a risk of catching fire.
Sinnett will become vice president of product development, while Bob Whittington, now the chief engineer on Boeing's 777 airliner, will take over as chief project engineer for the 787, the company said in a note to employees.
The memo said the moves were intended to give each of the five people involved an opportunity to broaden their experience, increasing "the bench strength of our teams."
Sinnett was the face of the 787 during the stormy months this year when regulators grounded the plane after two lithium-ion batteries burned on two of the high-tech 787s in less than two weeks.
The $207 million, 250-seat plane returned to the skies in April only to be beset by further issues. On July 12, a parked 787 owned by Ethiopian Airlines caught fire at Heathrow airport.
Investigators traced that incident to pinched wires in an emergency beacon and regulators instructed airlines to inspect or replace the units. Since then, other reports of fires have surfaced.
"There is never a perfect time to make changes," said Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering, about the timing of the moves.
He said the timing reflected Boeing's effort to spread its engineering base into three "independent but cooperative" centers in Washington state, South Carolina and Southern California.
Spokesman Marc Birtel said the shift in responsibilities was "in no way punitive."
Boeing said Larry Schneider will be the vice president and chief project engineer for the 777, succeeding Bob Whittington. Schneider was previously deputy chief project engineer on the 787.
Todd Zarfos will be vice president of engineering functions and leader of the Washington state design center, succeeding Dan Mooney, who was recently named vice president of the South Carolina design center. Boeing is looking to fill Zarfos' role as vice president of engineer for commercial aviation services.
John Hamilton, the vice president of regulatory administration, will add the role of aviation safety and security.