Boeing’s inventory could balloon by nearly $12 billion by the end of September if regulators don’t act and 737 production continues at the current pace, Ferguson said.
“They can’t keep building and parking planes indefinitely,” he said. “We don’t think it will get to that, but it’s going to take a lot of cash to park those in the desert.” As Boeing finalises paperwork to certify a redesign of flight-control software linked to the two disasters, executives are laying detailed plans for the Max’s eventual return to commercial flight. The team huddles daily and includes officials from the 737 program, corporate headquarters and the commercial and global-services divisions.
The Max grounding has long since passed the 60-day mark when aircraft are typically placed in long-term storage. Bringing them back to life will now involve a rigorous review that can last weeks as compared to days for planes that are parked for less than two months.
As the global fleet starts to come back online, Boeing plans to set up a round-the-clock operations centre to support customers. Teams of mechanics, technicians and field-service representatives will fan out to assist airlines as their jets make the “transition from storage and preservation activities to operational flight,” said Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman.
Southwest, the largest Max operator, is already planning for the plane’s return even though it’s not clear if that is weeks or months away. “It will be a staggered-type return to service,” said Gary Bjarke, director of contract services for the Dallas-based carrier.
Until then, Bjarke leads the team overseeing the upkeep of Southwest’s Max fleet parked on a desert plain in Victorville, California, east of Los Angeles. Southwest ferried all its Max planes to the storage yard in the days after US regulators halted commercial flights.
Crews spent about 80 man-hours preparing each jet for storage, and he estimates it will take about 120 hours of work to get each single-aisle plane back into flying condition. In all, he said, the maintenance checks could take about 30 days before the last of the airline’s parked 737s rejoin daily operations. The tempo of care is largely set by detailed checklists provided by Boeing. Instructions for “prolonged parking” run more than 100 pages in a manual for a previous generation of 737s. There are separate procedures to prepare planes depending on whether they will be parked a week, a month, two months and a year. Basic service tasks are spelled out in similar increments.
Even a simple requirement to wash an airplane is complicated by its sheer size. If a maintenance provider doesn’t have a concrete pad wash area with a drain for waste water, there’s another option: wipe the plane down by hand. “Basically, use cleaning wipes,” said Zemanovic, the former owner of the Arizona storage park.
The manual occasionally spells out risks in colorful detail, like the bacteria or fungi that can turn jet kerosene into the consistency of “mayonnaise,” clogging the fuel system if water hasn’t been thoroughly drained. There are separate lists that step-by-step make the plane serviceable once its desert stay comes to an end. “They just don’t park them and walk away and come back six months later,” said Zemanovic, who serves as president of Fillmore Aviation, a firm that specialises in end-of-life aircraft care. “Someone’s looking at them every day.”