Boeing Shipment Delays Leave Pilots Unpaid

United Airlines
United Airlines | Image by United Airlines/Shutterstock

Safety concerns with Boeing aircraft are beginning to have a ripple effect across the airline industry, impacting pilots in particular.

United Airlines announced the company is asking pilots to take unpaid leave this spring and possibly into the summer as production issues with Boeing are projected to delay new aircraft deliveries.

“We can confirm that due to the recent delays in Boeing deliveries, our forecasted block hours for 2024 have been reduced and we are offering our pilots voluntary programs for the month of May to reduce excess staffing,” United said in a statement to CBS News.

Boeing is facing enhanced scrutiny following a January in-flight incident in which a door plug dislodged from a Boeing 737 Max operated by Alaska Airlines, as reported by The Dallas Express. Subsequent investigations by safety regulators identified that defects in the manufacturing and maintenance of Boeing aircraft were not confined to just a few planes but affected numerous aircraft.

Boeing aircraft have been involved in several safety-related incidents recently, including a windshield shattering mid-flight and issues with improperly tightened bolts in the rudder system.

These safety concerns led Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun to announce his departure from the company, and a number of other executives have stepped down, as reported by NPR.

The aircraft manufacturer has faced ongoing quality control issues since at least 2019 when two separate crashes killed nearly 350 people. The crashes were traced to a faulty computer control system that could override the pilot’s ability to maintain flight at low speeds.

The FAA has halted production expansion of the Boeing 737 MAX, is exploring the use of a third party to conduct independent reviews of quality systems, and will continue its increased onsite presence at Boeing’s facility in Renton, Washington, and Spirit AeroSystems’ facility in Wichita, Kansas,” the Federal Aviation Administration announced in a March 4 statement.

United is not the only air travel company affected by the slowed production. Southwest Airlines also announced a drastic change to forecasts for new aircraft delivery that immediately impacted stock prices.

CNBC reported on March 12 that Dallas-based Southwest expects to receive just 46 new aircraft this year. Initial contracts would have supplied 79 aircraft, including the Max 7, which has yet to be certified to fly after Boeing pulled a safety exemption request earlier this year. Southwest stock dropped 15% on the announcement.

Boeing has been accused of putting investors over consumers as the company attempted to ramp up the production of commercial jets. A whistleblower recently accused the company of ignoring input from engineers in order to meet financial expectations. On March 12, whistleblower John Barnett was found dead in his car from what authorities describe as a “self-inflicted gunshot wound,” as reported by The Dallas Express.

“It looks like Boeing has been more focused on investing in ramping up into higher production rates than taking its quality system to the next level,” manufacturing expert Kevin Michaels, managing director of aerospace consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory in Michigan, said in an interview with Reuters.

Multiple investigations and increased oversight have slowed production and will result in fewer aircraft being completed. It remains to be seen whether additional airlines will need to cut back on flights and pilot manhours, and if this will ultimately lead to increased airfares for consumers.

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