By Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times
Boeing said Tuesday it will begin hiring a few hundred temporary employees at Moses Lake to work on the grounded 737 MAX fleet and prepare the planes for return to service once regulators gives them clearance to fly again.
The company, which will provide paid housing and a meal allowance for the temporary hires, is looking for avionics technicians, aircraft mechanics, airframe and engine mechanics, and aircraft electricians.
The marshaling of resources indicates Boeing’s confidence that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could grant approval to fly passengers on the 737 MAX again in little more than two months from now.
When regulators finally clear the MAX to return to service, all the grounded airplanes worldwide will need to have installed a new software package designed to fix the MAX’s flawed flight-control system — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). That’s the system that was implicated in the crashes of the Lion Air MAX in Indonesia last October and the Ethiopian Airlines MAX in March, killing a total of 346 people.
In addition, because all the jets will have been parked for at least six months by the time final clearance is given, each will require extensive maintenance work on the engines and other systems, followed by a couple of check flights to make sure everything is working well.
Boeing said all undelivered MAX airplanes that it has stored outside the Puget Sound region will be flown to Seattle and Everett for delivery to airline customers when the jets are ready to resume commercial flights. Moses Lake will serve as a nearby staging ground to do some of the maintenance work ahead of the deliveries.
Boeing is not providing details on the number of airplanes now parked, or the capacity, at each of those locations.
The timing of the jet’s return to service worldwide remains unclear. The FAA is expected to approve a return to flight first, and for training it may require only that U.S. pilots complete an online course on a computer to update them on the new MAX system.
Regulators abroad may be slower in approving a return to flight, and some are likely to require full flight-simulator training for pilots. That’s because of concern that less-experienced pilots need hands-on practice in how to cope with the type of emergency that arose on the two crashed flights, when uncommanded movement of the horizontal tail repeatedly pushed down the nose of the plane.
The pilots on the Ethiopian Airlines plane were aware of the MCAS problem, and the data collected from the flight indicates that they tried to follow the procedure Boeing had outlined as the correct response. However, they followed the procedure incompletely and were not able to control the jet.
Boeing reiterated Tuesday that it plans to submit a final certification package to the FAA “once we have satisfied all of their requirements, which we currently estimate will occur on a timeframe to support an early fourth-quarter return to service.”
The finalized submission to the FAA is expected next month, and clearance to fly again could come within a month or so of that. Some MAXs could return to service within weeks of that clearance.
However, for the three U.S. airlines that have MAXs in their fleets, all the maintenance work and pilot training that will follow could take longer. Southwest has already pushed out the resumption of MAX flights in its schedules until January. American and United have extended MAX cancellations through early November.
Boeing said it will post the temporary job openings at jobs.boeing.com, searchable by the Moses Lake location. These new hires will supplement Boeing permanent employees at the site.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly the current schedule for cancelled MAX flights by American and United. It also incorrectly stated that MAXs already delivered to airlines will be flown to Seattle and Everett for re-delivery with the MCAS fix installed. Only the as-yet-undelivered MAXs parked in various locations by Boeing will do that.