Boeing will start reopening its airplane manufacturing plants in Washington state next week, bringing 27,000 employees back to work under new safety protocols, the company said, even though customers are deferring and canceling orders for new planes.
The aerospace giant shut down its factories last month because of the coronavirus pandemic, and many workers feared the plants may remain closed for a longer period of time, with demand for aircraft plummeting as air travel comes to a near halt.
Customers canceled orders for 300 new Boeing 737 Max planes in March, and this morning, General Electric's aircraft leasing subsidiary announced it is canceling orders for 69 Max jets.
Boeing says it will restart production at its commercial airplane facilities in phases beginning April 20. Most workers will return the next day, and all the plants in the Puget Sound area are scheduled to reopen by April 24.
Boeing is implementing new safety procedures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including staggering shift start times to reduce the number of employees going in and out of the plants at the same time. The company will also use floor markings to create physical distance between workers, and employees will be required to wear face coverings and other protective gear.
Among those returning will be workers preparing to restart production on the 737 Max assembly line, which has been shut down since January. It's a sign that Boeing expects regulators to recertify the troubled Max planes within the next couple of months.