FAA won’t clear Boeing to increase 737 Max production for several months, agency head says


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Boeing 737 Max 8 fuselages manufactured by Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas are transported on a BSNF train heading west over the Bozeman Pass March 12, 2019 in Bozeman, Montana. 
William Campbell | Corbis News | Getty Images

It will likely be “months” before the Federal Aviation Administration clears Boeing to increase production of its best-selling 737 Max, the head of the agency said Thursday.

The FAA in January barred the manufacturer from boosting production of the planes after a door plug blew out midair from a new 737 Max 9, minutes into an Alaska Airlines flight. Federal safety investigators found that bolts that hold the panel in place appeared not to have been installed before the plane was delivered to Alaska Airlines last year.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and other top company leaders met with FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker and other agency officials earlier Thursday to present an agency-ordered quality improvement plan, in which the company outlined its efforts to improve staff training and production practices at its factories.

Whitaker said at a press conference after the meeting that Boeing’s work was far from complete.

“We will not approve production increases beyond the current cap until we’re satisfied,” Whitaker said.

“Boeing has laid out their roadmap, and now they need to execute,” he said.

Resulting aircraft delays from Boeing’s production slowdown have meant airline customers like United and Southwest have had to redraw their growth plans.

FAA Administrator Whitaker is scheduled to brief lawmakers on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure next Tuesday.

The comments point to a long road ahead for Boeing to ensure manufacturing quality. Meanwhile it’s grappling with a crisis that has drained cash from an iconic U.S. company eager to improve its reputation after two fatal Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people.

Boeing Chief Financial Officer Brian West on May 23 said that the company expects to burn cash this year instead of generating it. For the current quarter alone, Boeing expects to use about $4 billion.

Boeing executives have acknowledged that the 90-day plan won’t turn things around immediately.

“The 90-day plan … is not a finish line,” West said at an investor conference last week. “We look forward to the feedback that we’ll get after next week.” 

Boeing’s update Thursday is expected to have included improvements to staff training, such as simplified instructions for mechanics and tool availability, as well as the reduction of so-called traveled work, where required tasks on the planes are done out of sequence.

The manufacturer was also set to explain more about its factory “stand-downs,” in which it paused work to have conversations about potential improvements on production lines with employees. The manufacturer implemented those brief work pauses in the months after the Alaska Airlines door plug blowout.

Calhoun, who said he would step down by the end of the year, told staff in April that the company has received more than 30,000 “ideas on how we can improve” and that “speak up submissions” — concerns raised by staff — and comments were up 500% over 2023.

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