When Spirit AeroSystems put about 900 workers in Wichita who produce parts for the 737 MAX on unpaid leave for three weeks, it was acting on direction from Boeing to pause production on the jet and slow deliveries.
The temporary layoffs were announced Wednesday. Later that evening, Spirit further clarified the reason for the decision.
Spirit said it received a letter from Boeing on June 4 with instructions that, until otherwise directed, it should pause additional work on building the fuselages and other major parts for four 737 MAXs currently in production, and should avoid starting work on parts for 16 further 737 MAXs.
Based on a subsequent June 9 letter from Boeing and direct discussions with the jet maker, Spirit said it concluded that it will be able to deliver parts for fewer than 125 MAXs this year, the target Boeing had set just last month.
That May figure itself was a reduction from the target of 216 deliveries Boeing had set for Spirit in February. Clearly, the planned ramp-up of MAX production is set to slow further.
“Spirit does not yet have definitive information on what the magnitude of the reduction will be but expects it will be more than 20 shipsets,” the supplier said in its news release.
In addition to putting all its MAX workers in Wichita on unpaid furlough for three weeks starting Monday, Spirit said it will also reduce the hourly workforce at its plants in Tulsa and McAlester, Okla., effective June 12.
In a statement, Boeing blamed the coronavirus pandemic, which has drastically reduced airline demand for airplanes in the near term.
“As we shared in our first quarter earnings release, the impact of COVID-19 on our industry has resulted in a slower production rate ramp-up on the 737 program,” Boeing said. “To reflect the slower ramp and align our supply inventories, we’re working closely with our suppliers to adjust delivery schedules and rate profiles as appropriate.”
The plan to slow the ramp-up of 737 MAX production will not necessarily affect the timing of the still-grounded jet’s return to service.
Boeing is still sticking to its forecast at the end of April that anticipates the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearing the MAX to fly again during the third quarter — meaning by the end of September.
At the end of May, Boeing very slowly restarted final assembly work on the MAX in Renton.
Boeing has told some airlines that long-delayed FAA certification flights needed for that clearance could happen around the end of this month, and has begun sharing information about the pilot training that will be required when the MAX finally gets the green light.