Boeing is suspending production of the 737 Max as hopes of getting its marquee aircraft back in the air quickly fade.
The ramifications are likely to ripple beyond the factory floor of Boeing’s plant in Renton, Washington, across both the aviation and manufacturing sectors.
Southwest Airlines, which had been relying on the Boeing aircraft to update its fleet, pushed back any hope of reinserting the Max into its lineup by five weeks, to April. American Airlines did the same last week.
Southwest said Tuesday that it is trying to minimize travel disruptions and apologized to customers for any impact they might suffer.
Boeing announced Monday that it will suspend production of the Max starting sometime in January, with no specific date for when the Renton plant will be restarted.
The company said it won’t lay off any of the factory’s 12,000 workers “at this time,” and many could be diverted to plants elsewhere in the Seattle region. Some could also be assigned to work on the 400 jets that Boeing has built since the Max was grounded in March but couldn’t be delivered.
Boeing’s decision is a recognition that it will take longer than the company expected to get the planes back in the air.
“If they had gotten some information quietly, behind the scenes, from the FAA that things were looking good for January or February, they wouldn’t have done this,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft industry analyst at the Teal Group.
The Max is Boeing’s most important jet, but it has been grounded since March after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed a total of 346 people.
The FAA told the company last week that it had unrealistic expectations for getting the plane back into service. Boeing has missed several estimates for the plane’s return date.
The agency has not given a specific date for approving the Max’s return, but FAA administrator Stephen Dickson has said it will be done on the agency’s timetable, not Boeing’s.
The FAA said Monday it wouldn’t comment on Boeing’s business decisions and that it has no set time frame for when work to recertify the Max to fly will be completed.
Boeing said it will determine later when production can resume, based largely on approval from government regulators.
Investigators have found that flight control software designed to stop an aerodynamic stall was a major factor in the crashes, and Boeing is updating the software, making it less aggressive. But regulators have yet to approve the changes.
Even before the production halt, airlines were delaying the dates for when they expect the Max to fly passengers. Last week, American Airlines removed the Max from its schedule until April 7, a month later than previously announced. Southwest Airlines’ pilots union also doesn’t expect the Max to fly until at least April.
Boeing also faces about 150 lawsuits from relatives of crash victims, and it has set up a $100 million fund to aid families.
This story was edited for length.