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Boeing has announced it will temporarily suspend production of the 737 Max in January following two fatal crashes.
The manufacturer was hoping the aircraft would be recertified and a grounding order lifted by the end of this year, but the US Federal Aviation Administration has refused to put a timeline on getting the planes back in the sky.
Boeing developed a software update for the 737 Max to address an issue with the aircraft’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which investigators have named as a partial factor in the accidents in October 2018 and March 2019 in which a total of 346 people died.
The FAA is testing the changes, but during a Congressional hearing in Washington last week, administrator Steve Dickson said the process of approval is “not guided by a calendar or schedule”.
Dickson also admitted the regulator made a mistake when it did not issue a grounding order following the first crash despite its own analysis showing there was a risk of up to 15 additional disasters over the lifespan of the Max without the software update.
In a statement announcing the suspension of production, Boeing said: “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 has continued production on the Max programme throughout the grounding – albeit at a slower pace – but it said it now has 400 aircraft in storage and needs to switch its priority to delivering these planes once they have been recertified to fly.
The manufacturer continued: “We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health… During this time, it is our plan that affected employees will continue 737-related work, or be temporarily assigned to other teams in Puget Sound.”
The company said it will provide financial information regarding the suspension of production in connection with its Q4 earnings release in January.