updated 9/5/2006 7:27:46 PM ET 2006-09-05T23:27:46

Boeing Co. promoted the sales chief of its resurgent commercial airplanes unit, Scott Carson, to head the division Tuesday after Alan Mulally left to become chief executive of Ford Motor Co.

Carson, 60, had been vice president of sales for the Seattle-based division and is a 34-year veteran of the company. His appointment is effective immediately.

He will have a difficult act to follow as president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, since Mulally is widely credited with leading a renaissance at the once-struggling unit. But as the company noted and analysts echoed, Carson also was influential in the recovery as the force behind reinvigorating the sales team that delivered record airplane orders last year.

“Scott Carson is a seasoned and well-respected leader who knows our customers, our business strategies, and our products and services inside and out,” CEO Jim McNerney said. “He is uniquely qualified to step in and lead our commercial airplanes team and continue to advance our performance and growth plans.”

Boeing also named James Jamieson, 58, to the new position of chief operating officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Jamieson currently is senior vice president for engineering, operations and technology, at Boeing’s corporate offices in Chicago.

Carson was appointed to head commercial airplanes sales in December 2004 at a time when Airbus was increasing its dominance in delivering airplanes. He previously headed Boeing’s inflight Internet venture, Connexion by Boeing, and held various positions in the company’s space, defense and commercial operations.

On a conference call, he said he has a more reserved personality than the outgoing Mulally but a similar style and indicated he plans no changes any time soon.

“The machine here at BCA is running very well,” he said. “I’m quite comfortable in continuing to implement the plan that we have. It’s the right plan, the right strategy.”

He said his main focus over the next few weeks, while he moves to name a successor as sales chief, will be to maintain close contact with Boeing’s airplane customers.

The departure of the 61-year-old Mulally wasn’t totally unexpected, since he was passed over for the CEO’s job last year when Boeing opted instead for aerospace veteran McNerney, then chief executive at 3M Co. But the announcement that he was leaving the industry to head the auto giant caught many observers off guard.

McNerney told analysts and reporters that after Ford approached Mulally about a month ago, he told the airplanes chief he should stay with Boeing. But it was clear that he had “an itch he had to scratch” in running a big company.

“He will have to learn that industry, and that will involve some listening as well as some digging into the details of the company,” he said. “But I think Alan can pull it off.”

Mulally had been with Boeing since joining the company in 1969 as an engineer. He managed programs for various Boeing models and was general manager of the program that developed the 777. He was named president of the commercial airplanes division in 1998.

He was in charge of the company’s airplane production at a time when it was overtaken by European rival Airbus. But he oversaw a turnaround in the last couple of years, aided by a flood of orders for the new 787 jet. In 2005, the business generated orders and sales of nearly $23 billion.

Aerospace analyst Craig Fraser of Fitch Ratings said Mulally’s loss is significant but noted that the company already has weathered two CEO changes since December 2003 so it should be able to withstand the departure of a unit chief.

“It’s obviously a loss of a key player, but it doesn’t mean much for their strategy and their overall financial position,” he said. “Mulally made huge contributions to the company but they’ve replaced him with a good combination because of the complementary backgrounds of Carson and Jamieson — Carson having a successful track record in finance and marketing and strategy and Jamieson in operations and engineering.”

Bill Dugovich, spokesman for Boeing’s engineers union — the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace — called Mulally’s exit disappointing. He said he didn’t know enough about Carson to predict how the commercial plane unit would fare under his leadership, but noted, “It certainly could usher in a change of philosophy at the Boeing Company. We’ll wait and see.”

Mark Blondin, president of Boeing’s Machinists union, said Mulally and McNerney have refused repeated requests in the past year to sit down with the union, which waged a four-week strike against the company last September. “That lack of respect is what got them a strike a year ago,” said Blondin, president of International Association of Machinists’ District 751, based in Seattle.

He gave Carson credit for his success heading up Boeing’s sales team, but said he doesn’t know what to expect from him. “I don’t hold my breath that Boeing is going to sit down and enter into any unfiltered dialogue,” Blondin said.

Boeing shares fell 18 cents in after-hours trading after closing at $75.37 on the New York Stock Exchange before the announcement. It is up 7 percent this year.

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