Boeing announced on Monday, December 16 that it will suspend production of its troubled 737 Max aircraft.
The decision comes nine months after the plane was grounded globally following two deadly crashes that were caused by a fault with a new feature on the aircraft.
Boeing, which says it has fixed the fault, has continued to manufacture the aircraft for carriers around the world. But with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month saying it had yet to complete a review of the Max’s design changes, Boeing has decided to halt production until the aircraft receives the green light to fly again.
“Safely returning the 737 Max to service is our top priority,” Chicago-based Boeing said in a statement issued on Monday. “We know that the process of approving the 737 Max’s return to service, and of determining appropriate training requirements, must be extraordinarily thorough and robust, to ensure that our regulators, customers, and the flying public have confidence in the 737 Max updates.”
The plane manufacturer said it currently has around 400 recently built Max aircraft in storage, and will deliver them once the aircraft is cleared for take-off.
“We have previously stated that we would continually evaluate our production plans should the Max grounding continue longer than we expected,” Boeing said. “As a result of this ongoing evaluation, we have decided to prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 program beginning next month.”
The company attributed its decision to “the extension of certification into 2020, the uncertainty about the timing and conditions of return to service and global training approvals, and the importance of ensuring that we can prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft.”
Affected employees will be kept busy with 737-related work or assigned to other teams until Max production begins again, Boeing said in its statement.
The ongoing grounding of around 500 Max planes worldwide is a major headache for the airlines that use the aircraft, with flight cancellations and rescheduling causing widespread and costly disruption. American carriers have removed the aircraft from their schedules until at least March 2020, though the FAA has offered no guarantee that its review will be completed by then. The issue has so far cost Boeing a reported $9 billion, with the figure continuing to climb.
The first of the two 737 Max crashes occurred in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight came down shortly after take-off near Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the deaths of all 157 people on board. Just five months later, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, killing 189 people.