© Reuters. Boeing employees work during a media tour of the Boeing 737 MAX at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington December 7, 2015. Picture taken December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight/File Photo
By Valerie Insinna
SEATTLE (Reuters) – A top Boeing (NYSE:) executive on Wednesday urged suppliers to maintain the pace of the current 737 production schedule, but acknowledged that an ongoing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit of the company’s 737 MAX production line could force changes to the schedule.
Boeing reaffirmed its 737 master schedule in a Jan. 22 email to its suppliers following the Jan. 5 mid-air cabin panel blowout on a MAX 9, Reuters previously reported.
The supplier master schedule, which lays out the expectation for when suppliers should be at a given production rate, calls for a production rate for the 737s of 42 per month, starting this month.
However, the FAA capped Boeing’s 737 production line at its current rate of 38 aircraft per month while the regulator investigates Boeing’s manufacturing practices — a situation which could leave Boeing lagging behind its supply chain, depending on how long the limit on production lasts.
“I would ask all of you to bear with us,” Boeing supply chain head Ihssane Mounir said at an aerospace supplier conference outside Seattle, adding that the planemaker understands suppliers have had to hire workers and make investments ahead of the planned ramp-up.
“We will work with you on an individual basis in terms of what you need to do, whether that is building inventory, whether that is your business requirements,” he said.
Boeing has been embroiled in a full-blown safety and reputational crisis following the Jan. 5 accident involving a recently delivered Alaska Airlines MAX 9.
Mounir, in his first public remarks since the accident, struck a tone of unity, imploring suppliers to be transparent about problems that could lead to a breakdown in quality.
“Please raise your hands, talk to us,” he said. “If there are business requirements we need to address to help your stability and help the quality, we’ll sit down and we’ll go through those discussions.”
In addition to a Jan. 17 memo directing suppliers to ensure that bolts are properly tightened, which Reuters reported last month, Mounir said Boeing recently issued guidance to its supply chain to reduce traveled work on the 737 program. Traveled work is the practice of completing work on a production line out of the ordinary sequence.
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