Grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes are parked at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake on Dec. 10. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images, file)

Grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes are parked at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake on Dec. 10. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images, file)

Boeing has reached out to retirees to maintain the 737 Max

Retired workers are on the job in Moses Lake. The deal lets them keep their pension benefits.

MOSES LAKE — The Boeing Co. is reaching out to retirees to help tend a fleet of 737 Maxes stored at the company’s Moses Lake test facility.

Hundreds of Boeing workers are responsible for looking after the airplanes, including a cadre of retired employees who have returned to work under a deal allowing them to draw a paycheck and keep their pension benefits.

The aerospace giant began hiring temporary workers with aircraft mechanical and avionics skills last summer to help maintain grounded 737 Maxes, which now number about 250 at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake. That’s more than half of the undelivered Maxes in Boeing’s inventory. In all, about 800 737 Max planes are parked at various locations worldwide, including at Paine Field in Everett.

“They called a bunch of retirees back and said we need you in Moses Lake,” said a Boeing worker who asked not to be identified. “We get the same wages that we left at, plus there’s a bonus at six months, and you get to keep your retirement.”

The company also is picking up the tab for lodging and meals, the worker said.

The 737 Max was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes killed 346 people. Boeing continued to build the plane, although it lowered the production rate from 52 to 42 per month.

Just this month, Chicago-based Boeing temporarily suspended all production at the 737 factory in Renton until regulators recertify it. That could take months longer.

The jetmaker said no layoffs or furloughs were planned. Instead, select workers from Renton would be tapped to staff Max airplane storage locations in Moses Lake and Victorville, California. Other affected Renton workers would be loaned to the 767 and 777 programs in Everett.

Maintaining the planes is a rigorous, costly and labor-intensive job, the worker said, describing some of the procedures.

Each plane is hooked up to an external generator. Every week the plane has to be jacked up and the wheels rotated so tires stay round.

Fuel has to be removed and replaced to ensure sensors don’t get stuck. Batteries must be charged to maintain power. Inside the plane, technicians monitor the humidity to ensure none of the electronics are damaged by excessive moisture.

“All this and more has to be done each week so that when the Federal Aviation Administration gives approval, the new software can be installed and the Maxes delivered and put into service,” the worker said.

Once the 737 Max is cleared to return to service, it’s expected the planes will be flown to Seattle and Everett for delivery to airlines and leasing companies.

Boeing said it continues to “staff up” the locations where Max airplanes are being stored.

“We are using resources across the Boeing enterprise during the pause in 737 Max deliveries,” Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said last week.

“In addition, Boeing will also hire temporary employees based there. The team in Moses Lake will continue to ensure airplanes are cared for and maintained during storage, and assist in the pre-delivery process once the Max is certified to safely return to service.”

According to Rich Mueller, director of the Grant County airport, the 737 Maxes have generated about 400 temporary jobs.

Boeing hasn’t set a date for 737 Max production to resume, due to uncertainty about the timing and conditions of a return to service, including pilot training requirements.

The company told 737 suppliers to suspend parts shipments for one month starting in mid-January.

The pause could hurt local machine shops and businesses that are part of Boeing’s 737 supply chain. Some smaller firms say they’re wrestling with whether to halt their own production lines, which could mean layoffs.

Some 6,000 or so work at Snohomish County aerospace firms other than Boeing — painting, finishing or assembling seats, tray tables, cockpit doors and other airplane parts.

Janice Podsada, jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097. Twitter: JanicePods.

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