Production of the US Air Force’s KC-46 refuelling tanker and the Navy’s P-8 maritime surveillance plane will stop as Boeing shuts down all facilities in the Seattle area amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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“Boeing plans to begin reducing production activity today and projects the suspension of such operations to begin on Wednesday, March 25, at sites across the Puget Sound area,” the company said in a statement on Monday.
A Boeing spokesman confirmed that the impacted area includes the facilities in Everett and Renton, where the KC-46 and P-8 are made, respectively.
“We plan to temporarily suspend all production operations, including those relating to P-8 and KC-46A, in the Puget Sound region,” the spokesman said.
“We’re actively engaged with our Defense customers to minimise any impacts on their missions. Certain non-production work for all commercial derivative aircraft programs, including for the KC-46 remote vision system enhancements, will continue being done by employees working remotely.”
Staff are being told to work remotely, however work on classified programs is not possible on laptops, making some projects incompatible with tele-work.
The facilities impacted usually produce commercial aircraft, however are also involved in the aircraft derived from commercial designs for military purposes such as the KC-46 and P-8.
However, Boeing’s defence business will likely be able to make a quick recovery as long as the pause in production is not protracted, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group.
“P-8, KC-46 and other Boeing defence production in the Puget Sound area is mostly low-volume, like around one to two per month,” he said.
“So they should be able to recover over the course of the year, assuming the factory deep clean is successful and the pandemic threat turns a corner.”
Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun characterised the temporary plant closures as a “necessary step” to protect employees in the wake of a state of emergency in Washington state.
The P-8A is built specifically as a military aircraft. It is based on the proven commercial designs of Boeing's 737-800 fuselage, but has been substantially modified.
The P-8A Poseidon is an important part of Australia's future maritime patrol and response strategy, but Australia is unlikely to feel any effect from the closures.