Boeing Extends Closing of Seattle-Area Plants on Virus Worry

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. decided to keep its Seattle-area commercial manufacturing hub closed indefinitely as state health officials work to contain a Covid-19 outbreak and its suppliers show signs of stress.

The factories, including a hulking plant where all of the company’s wide-body jets are built, had been scheduled to reopen late Tuesday evening following an earlier two-week closure. The safety of employees and recommendations of government health authorities were among the considerations, the Chicago-based planemaker said in a statement.

The pandemic injects fresh uncertainty into Boeing’s plans to restart 737 Max production, which was closed in January, about 10 months after global authorities grounded those jets following two fatal crashes. Also in flux is whether the disruption from the outbreak will stymie the company’s efforts to end the flying ban by midyear.

Boeing has about 135 confirmed coronavirus cases among its global workforce, according to a spokesman. The aviation titan made the decision to shutter its Washington state facilities and ask employees to telecommute, where possible, after an employee at its Everett campus died last month. Nearly half the company’s total workforce is based in the Puget Sound region, an early epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.

At other sites that have remained open, Boeing is taking additional measures to protect employees. These include more frequent and thorough cleaning of work and common areas and staggered shift times to reduce the flow of employees arriving and departing work, the company said.

Boeing offered buyouts to all 161,000 of its employees last week, and a person familiar with the matter said then that the company is taking a closer look at reducing manufacturing rates for wide-body jets amid plunging demand. It later said the buyout is being offered to all eligible employees and will provide information on the terms within four weeks. The planemaker is trying to conserve cash as airlines around the world slash schedules, moving about half their planes into storage, according to data provider Cirium.

“When the world emerges from the pandemic, the size of the commercial market and the types of products and services our customers want and need will likely be different,” Chief Executive Officer David Calhoun told employees last week in a message.

While the company has told Congress that the industry needs some $60 billion in federal assistance, Calhoun has blanched at the strings that would potentially be attached.

Boeing shares, which rose 1% to $124.52 at the close in New York on April 3, have tumbled 62% so far this year in the biggest drop on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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