Troubled American plane maker Boeing said Wednesday (16 April) that it will restart next week “all commercial airplane production” in a “phased approach” at its Puget Sound-region in Washington state after it had suspended operations last in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 2 million people worldwide and killed almost 150,000. The company said it will implement “extra precautions” and institute “comprehensive procedures to keep people safe and fight the spread of COVID-19”.
“The health and safety of our employees, their families and communities is our shared priority,” said Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and senior executive in the Pacific Northwest. “This phased approach ensures we have a reliable supply base, our personal protective equipment is readily available and we have all of the necessary safety measures in place to resume essential work for our customers.”
About 27,000 people in the Puget Sound area will return to production of the 747, 767, 777 and 787 programmes. The 737 programme will resume working toward restarting production of the 737 MAX, which has been grounded for more than a year and cost Boeing billions of dollars in lost sales and compensation paid to airlines that had ordered hundreds of the jets. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner facility in the US state of South Carolina will remain suspended while earlier this week Boeing restarted mostly defence production operations in the region with approximately 2,500 people.
Boeing said employees in the Puget Sound area for the 737, 747, 767 and 777 will return as early as the third shift on 20 April with most returning to work by 21 April. Employees for the 787 programme will return as early as third shift 23 April with most returning to work by 24 April.
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The company said its practices “reinforce enhanced cleaning, employee health and physical distancing in partnership with employees. Aligned with federal and state guidance, these practices include”:
- Staggered shift start times to reduce the flow of employees arriving and departing work;
- Visual controls such as floor markings and signage to create physical distance;
- Face coverings will be a requirement for employees at Boeing sites in Washington; Employees are strongly encouraged to bring in their own procedural mask or face covering and those who do not have a mask available will be provided with one;
- Providing required personal protective equipment to employees working in areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained for an extended period;
- Asking employees to perform self-health checks before coming to work and to stay home if they are ill;
- Employee wellness checks at the beginning of every shift and voluntary temperature screening at many manufacturing locations;
- Contact tracing when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 to reduce risk to teammates;
- Continued virtual meetings and employees who can work from home will continue to do so;
- Transportation and common areas adjusted for physical distancing;
- Hand-washing stations in high-traffic areas and additional cleaning supplies available;
- Enhanced measures will continue until conditions allow for a return to regular work and cleaning processes.
Boeing didn’t detail what production rates it will target in a restart that comes against the backdrop of a collapse in air travel that has forced airlines to ground two-thirds of the global fleet and prompted cancellations from its own order book. Rival Airbus SE last week said it would cut production rates by a third.
Boeing earlier announced first quarter deliveries in commercial shipments were down 66.4 percent from the previous year. Boeing reported commercial deliveries of only 50 airplanes in Q1 2020, significantly declining year over year, primarily due to poor 737 jet deliveries and comparatively lower deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner. Delivery of the single-aisle 737 jets fell to five in the quarter from 89 a year ago. Shipments of the 777 Dreamliner totalled six compared with 10 in the previous year’s first quarter. Shipments of the 787 Dreamliner totalled 29 compared with 36 in the year-ago period. The company delivered 10 767 jets during the quarter compared with two 747 jets and 12 767 jets sold in the year-ago quarter.
Demand for Boeing’s 737 jets has been relatively lower over the past few quarters, following the consecutive crashes of its two 737 Max 8 jets in early 2019, which led to the subsequent grounding of the product line in March. Things further worsened for this jet model as the company, in December 2019, finally announced the temporary suspension of production, commencing January 2020. Boeing encountered a significant drop in aircraft deliveries as airline companies all over the world struggled from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
As air traffic slowed sharply due to the virus outbreak, new aircraft, which were supposed to get delivered, are now lying idle in Boeing’s manufacturing plants. Notably, such factors have led to the drab delivery figures for Boeing’s flagship commercial fleet in the first quarter. Against the 89 aircraft deliveries made by Boeing, Airbus delivered a total of 122 commercial aircraft in the first quarter of 2020, which comprised 104 single-aisle jets, four A330 jets and 14 A350 jets.