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Boeing plans to resume Seattle-area aircraft production with physical distancing to avoid coronavirus

A Boeing 737 MAX 9 is pictured outside the factory in Renton, Washington.

Stephen Brashear | Getty Images

Boeing is planning to resume commercial aircraft production at its Seattle-area factories as early as Monday with new physical distancing measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

The company had suspended production at those factories three weeks ago amid stay-at-home orders in Washington state. It later said it would temporarily shut down production at its South Carolina factory where it makes wide-body 787 jetliners, a move that effectively suspended Boeing’s commercial aircraft assembly.

Boeing will require face coverings at its Washington state sites and will mark floors and post signs to indicate appropriate physical distance between employees. Staff will also come in on a staggered schedule. 

Other measures to stop the spread of the disease include employee “wellness checks,” voluntary temperature taking at the factories and contact tracing if employees test positive for Covid-19. Boeing is tracking about 65 active cases of Covid-19 among its employees, while around 120 others have fully recovered, a spokesman said.

The precautions might be a taste of what employees currently working from home across various industries might face when they return to company facilities. 

Boeing’s CEO, Dave Calhoun, in a note to staff, cheered the progress airlines made toward getting billions in government aid to help soften the blow from the coronavirus, which has sent U.S. air travel demand down 95% from a year ago.

But airline revenues are expected to fall sharply this year, sapping demand for new jetliners as carriers race to park their jets so capacity is more in line with the paltry air travel demand.

Calhoun didn’t say outright whether Boeing will apply and accept government aid for itself. The company last month sought $60 billion for the aerospace industry, but Calhoun balked at government equity stakes in return for federal relief.

“Our team continues to focus on the best ways to keep liquidity flowing through our business and to our supply chain until our customers are buying airplanes again,” Calhoun told employees.

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