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.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

The Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett. (Boeing Co.)
Could Everett become Boeing’s next jetliner headquarters?

The company is considering selling the Commercial Airplanes division offices at Longacres in Renton.

FILE - An American Airlines Boeing 737-823 lands at Miami International Airport, Monday, July 27, 2020, in Miami.American Airlines said Tuesday, Aug. 25 that it will furlough or lay off 19,000 employees in October as it struggles with a sharp downturn in travel because of the pandemic. Flight attendants will bear the heaviest cuts, with 8,100 losing their jobs.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
American plans flights with Boeing 737 Max by year-end

Customers can see on American’s website the type of plane for any flight if they know where to click.

Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Aviation Safety Agency, in Amsterdam on Nov. 27, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Yuriko Nakao.
Boeing Max judged safe to fly by Europe’s aviation regulator

A synthetic sensor to aid pilots when the mechanical angle-of-attack sensors fail is still two years out.

Cop turned pinup model in Gold Bar charged with $67K fraud

Brenda Cavoretto was injured when a dead body fell on her in 2012. She’s accused of overselling its lasting impact.

Washington unemployment rate drops to 7.8%

Most job growth occurred in leisure and hospitality, construction and other services.

Premera Blue Cross will eliminate hundreds of jobs as it seeks to cut costs sparked by the current economic downturn. (Submitted photo)
Mountlake Terrace-based health insurer Premera cuts 285 jobs

The layoff at Premera Blue Cross, prompted by the economic downturn, represents about 8.3% of its workforce.

FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2018, file photo, the logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  Twitter is imposing new rules, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020,  ahead of the U.S. presidential election, prohibiting people,  including candidates, from claiming an election win before it is called by either state election officials or two authoritative, national news outlets. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Twitter to pay $100,000 over Washington campaign violations

The company failed to maintain records related to ads that ran from 2012 through 2019.

FILE  - In this Sept. 30, 2020, file photo, a Boeing 737 MAX jet, piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson, prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle. Boeing says the pandemic will reduce demand for new planes for the next decade, long after experts expect a vaccine for COVID-19. The company updated its forecast of the airplane market on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. It remains upbeat about long-term prospects driven by increasing air travel in Asia. Boeing, which along with Europe’s Airbus dominates the aircraft-building industry, has seen orders and deliveries of new planes crumble this year. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing’s struggles continue: No jetliner sales in September

The company has suffered 448 cancellations for the Max and dropped another 602 orders from its backlog.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the EU Commission, speaks at a press conference in Berlin, Germany, following the informal talks of the EU Trade Ministers on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.  (Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool via AP)
Rule: EU can impose $4 billion in tariffs over Boeing support

Tax breaks for Boeing from Washington state were deemed to have unfairly harmed certain Airbus jets.

Kellie Shanahan loads Jacob McGovern's vehicle with his class tool bag at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood on October 1, 2020.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
How do you teach auto shop remotely? Edmonds class finds out

For some local high school students, auto shop is the thing that keeps them from dropping out.

Newly certified teacher Shana Brown assists a student with a Zoom meeting, while overseeing a class of seven students, in the former warehouse space at Malicious Women Candles on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 in Snohomish, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
For some Snohomish County kids, a warehouse is a schoolhouse

Employers made space for students to attend virtual classes on-site. But at least one learning pod had to shut down.

FILE - In this  July 8, 2009, file photo, a worker dries a car at Seattle's famous Elephant car wash, near the Space Needle in Seattle. Seattle's iconic pink elephant sign soon will have a new home. The Seattle Times reports the Elephant Car Wash on Battery Street near Denny Way will close permanently, the company announced in a news release Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Seattle’s Elephant Car Wash to shutter, pink sign to be saved

Rumors have swirled surrounding a demolition permit for the site was filed Oct. 7.