Boeing slows production of 737. Spirit to continue delivering 52 planes a month

Boeing announced Friday that it is cutting production of its grounded Max airliner to focus on fixing flight-control software and getting the planes back in the air.

Starting in mid-April, Boeing will cut production of the 737 Max from 52 to 42 planes per month, the company said.

Wichita-based Spirit AeroSystems, meanwhile, said it will continue delivering the jet to Boeing at its current same rate — 52 a month. It will minimize the impact on its full-time workforce by “reducing contractors and overtime, and suspending hiring to backfill open positions.”

Boeing had already suspended deliveries of the Max after regulators around the world grounded the jet last month. In each of the deadly crashes, preliminary reports say faulty sensor readings erroneously triggered an anti-stall system that pushed the plane’s nose down. Pilots of both planes struggled in vain to regain control over the automated system.

In all, 346 people died in the crashes.

“Spirit and Boeing have agreed to work together to minimize the disruption to Spirit operations and the supply chain,” Tom Gentile, Spirit AeroSystems President and CEO, said in a news release posted on Spirit’s website.

“This is a challenging time for our industry, and we are working with our customer Boeing to support them as they focus on returning the MAX to service.”

Spirit plans to store the extra 737 Max shipsets — which are components related to a specific plane — at its facilities, according to the news release. The shipsets later will be transferred to Boeing “to support their production plan,” the news release said.

“This staggered production approach allows us and our supply base to better prepare for and support 737 production,” Gentile said.

Spirit is the Wichita area’s largest employer with 12,000 full-time workers. About 70 percent of the 737, including the fuselage, is manufactured at the Wichita plant. The jet’s production made up 56 percent of the company’s revenue in 2018.

Last year, Spirit delivered 301 of the 737 Max planes, according to the company’s latest annual report.

Spirit spokeswoman Keturah Austin said after the jets were grounded last month that the company still expected to increase its production of the Max from 52 to 57 shipsets a month sometime this year.

It wasn’t immediately clear Friday whether that is still the plan.

In addition to announcing the slowed production, Boeing said Friday that it has found another software issue that needs fixing on its 737 Max jets, and the discovery explains why the aircraft maker is delaying its schedule for getting the planes back in the air.

A Boeing spokesman, Charles Bickers, called it a “relatively minor issue” and said the plane maker already has a fix in the works. Bickers said the latest issue is not part of flight-control software that Boeing has been working to upgrade for months.

That software, known by its acronym MCAS, is suspected in two recent deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that led regulators to ground the plane worldwide last month.