The Seattle-based Boeing Co. has begun shipping its inventory of 737 Max aircraft to its San Antonio maintenance facility after the planes were grounded following two deadly crashes in five months.
A plane spotter picked up the radar track of the first Boeing 737 Max headed from Seattle to San Antonio this week, and Boeing Co. officials confirmed to the Rivard Report that its Port San Antonio site will temporarily store the airplanes until regulators complete investigations and lift the global grounding.
“We are using resources across the Boeing enterprise during the pause in 737 Max deliveries,” a spokesman said by email. “The 737s stored at the San Antonio site will return to Washington State, where they will be delivered to our customers.”
He would not say how many planes will be stored in San Antonio, but said the company is working with local site managers to manage the inventory.
In October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. It was the first fatal accident involving a 737 Max. On March 10, the same Max jet model being flown for Ethiopian Airlines also crashed, taking 157 lives.
An investigation into both crashes continues, but initial reports show similarities between the two accidents and point to an automated system designed to help the plane avoid stalling as the cause.
Just days before the second crash, Jay Galloway, the San Antonio site leader for Boeing Global Services, spoke enthusiastically about the ongoing renovation of its massive hangar and major new contracts that would usher in a new era for the aerospace company.
“We have never even typically eclipsed 60 percent utilization at this site in the now more than 20 years we’ve been here,” Galloway said. “But we are at a place today where we are going to fill this place up, which is exciting for all of us.”
Boeing opened at Port SA in 1998 and to date has invested about $200 million in its 168-acre site, making it the largest tenant among 80 tech, aerospace, and industrial organizations at the former Kelly Air Force Base.
The Boeing hangar – the world’s largest freestanding high-bay hangar – can accommodate 16 large aircraft at a time, primarily the C-17 Globemaster IIIs, a military transport plane that Boeing regularly overhauls from nose to tail.
The company recently signed a lease that keeps Boeing at the Port until at least 2029 and, in March, Galloway said Boeing expects to double its current workforce to 2,000 in the coming year.
A recent report by the Wall Street Journal stated that Boeing delivered 11 of the Max jets in March, which is less than half the rate of deliveries in January and February. During the same month, Boeing did not book any commercial orders for the 737 Max, the first month without such a sale in almost seven years.
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Though Boeing has cut 737 Max production from 57 planes a month to 42, the grounding has halted deliveries, leaving aircraft piled up around its assembly plants. About 100 of the Max jets are parked at four sites in the Seattle area, according to Chris Edwards, the plane spotter who tracks 737 production and first reported the dispatch of aircraft to San Antonio.
The Federal Aviation Administration is convening a summit of global regulators and aviation officials in Fort Worth on May 23 which may determine how long the planes will be grounded.