World News

Boeing suspending Washington state production due to coronavirus risks

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Boeing Co <BA.N> said on Monday it would halt production at its Washington state twin-aisle jetliner factory as a temporary measure to help fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Confirming an earlier Reuters report, and after a similar move by European rival Airbus SE <AIR.PA>, Boeing said a temporary operations shutdown at its facilities across Seattle’s Puget Sound region will last 14 days beginning March 25. It will include a deep clean of its buildings and equipment.

The fast-spreading coronavirus has disrupted life, hammered the economy and virtually wiped out air travel demand.

Boeing’s airline customers have deferred taking new aircraft and making pre-delivery downpayments, compounding a crisis over the year-old grounding of Boeing’s previously fast-selling 737 MAX jet after fatal crashes. Boeing halted 737 production in January.

Boeing separately has asked for at least $60 billion in U.S. government loan guarantees for itself and American aerospace manufacturers to help the embattled industry withstand a virus-related cash drain.

Boeing, which employs some 70,000 people across the Puget Sound area, has more than a dozen confirmed coronavirus cases among employees. One worker died from the coronavirus, according to a friend’s Facebook tribute on Monday.

Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun said in a statement accompanying the announcement that the planemaker was working closely with public health officials, customers, suppliers and others who would be affected by the temporary suspension.

“We regret the difficulty this will cause them, as well as our employees, but it’s vital to maintain health and safety for all those who support our products and services, and to assist in the national effort to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Calhoun said.

Boeing already instructed many employees to work from home. It said factory and other workers unable to work remotely would receive paid leave during the planned suspension period.

For now, the stoppage does not apply to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina.

Calhoun told employees in an email seen by Reuters that “the fight to save lives by halting the spread of COVID-19 around the world is demanding actions that few of us could have imagined even a few weeks ago.”

“It has to be the top priority for all of us – individually and collectively – to do what’s possible to help stop the pandemic now,” he said.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)