SEATTLE • Boeing plans to restart 737 Max production by May, ending a months-long halt triggered by a safety ban on its best-selling jet after fatal crashes, according to people familiar with the matter.
Boeing's planning hinges on the scale of disruptions from the fast-spreading coronavirus, as well as United States regulators clearing the 737 Max to return to service, a milestone the planemaker still expects to reach in the middle of the year.
An industry source said on Tuesday that Boeing has asked some suppliers to be ready to ship parts for the 737 Max next month.
Another person said production was planned to restart in May.
A third person said the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting Boeing's plans - the firm had initially hoped for next month, but that has fallen to May.
"It'll be a very slow, methodical, systematic approach to warming the line up and getting crews back in place," Boeing chief financial officer Greg Smith said when asked about the May restart goal.
"Priority No. 1 is getting customers' fleets back up," he said, adding that a ramping up of production will be paired with clearing the Max backlog. "We don't want to add to inventory."
Boeing ceased production of the jet in January as it struggled to win regulatory approvals and accrued a backlog of 400 undelivered jets.
The coronavirus pandemic has shattered global travel demand, upended lives for millions and wiped billions of dollars off Boeing's market value, compounding a year-old crisis over the grounding of the 737 Max after crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed a total of 346 people.
Boeing said on Monday that it would halt production at its facilities in Washington state, beginning yesterday, to reduce coronavirus risks.
The company has reported dozens of infection cases across its Seattle-area facilities, many of which were at its Everett hub north of Seattle.
One worker has died from the virus, according to a friend's Facebook tribute on Monday.
Boeing has told suppliers to halt shipments to its Seattle-area facilities and has frozen hiring among other cash-saving measures.
The company is seeking US$60 billion (S$87 billion) in US government aid to prop up its finances as well as the embattled American aerospace supply chain.
It has used the production lull to curb inefficiencies, improve quality and ease the plane's re-entry to the market.