Boeing has announced that it will temporarily halt production of its 737 Max airliner.
Production of the aircraft had continued despite the model being grounded for nine months following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people.
The US air watchdog had said earlier in December that it would not approve the jet’s return to service before 2020. More than 700 Max jets are now grounded worldwide. It’s the first time in two decades that Boeing has halted 737 production, and market commentators say the move could have significant repercussions for the US economy.
Boeing said in a statement: “Safely returning the 737 Max to service is our top priority. 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.”
Boeing is the US’s largest manufacturing exporter, meaning a shutdown would affect suppliers across the country. As a result of the suspension, thousands of scheduled flights that were awaiting new planes or had recently purchased new ones have been cancelled.
Boeing has plans to redeploy its 12,000 workers employed at Renton, Washington, where production took place.FAA administrator Steve Dickson said there were almost a dozen milestones to complete before the Max can return to service, making approval unlikely before February or later.
The two deadly crashes occurred within five months of one another. The first, a Lion Air flight, crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta, Indonesia 13 minutes after takeoff in October 2018. The second, an Ethiopian Airlines flight, crashed in March 2019 on a flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya six minutes after takeoff. Investigators of the Lion Air crash blamed faults by Boeing, Lion Air and pilots, and lapses by American regulators. A 353-page report found the jet should have been grounded before departure because of an earlier cockpit issue and identified issues with the jet’s new automated stabiliser control system. The system has been linked to both crashes