Boeing announces voluntary layoffs to cut costs as coronavirus leaves it in ‘uncharted waters’

A Boeing employee works in the fuselage section of the 747-8 Intercontinental airplane at the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington.

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A Boeing employee works in the fuselage section of the 747-8 Intercontinental airplane at the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington.
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Stephen Brashear/Getty
  • Boeing will offer a voluntary layoff option to employees this month, the company said Thursday.
  • CEO Dave Calhoun said in a letter to workers that the plan would allow Boeing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic the right size for the new industry.
  • “It’s important we start adjusting to our new reality now,” he said.
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Boeing on Thursday announced a voluntary layoff plan to help cut costs as the coronavirus complicates the company’s recovery from its 737 Max crisis.

In a letter to employees, CEO Dave Calhoun said recent events have left the company in ‘uncharted waters’ and that cutting staff now will help the planemaker adjust to the smaller aerospace market likely to exist after the pandemic.

“It’s important we start adjusting to our new reality now,” he said. “We want to address it through natural turnover and voluntary employment actions to the extent we responsibly can.”

The voluntary layoff plan will allow eligible employees who wish to leave with a pay and benefits package, Boeing said, offering no details about that compensation. The company also said it would continue to recruit in other areas in order to “meet customer commitments.”

As planes around the world sit parked on runways and desert fields, orders for new aircraft have fallen to zero. In February, Boeing logged more cancellations of orders for its commercial aircraft division than it logged in new purchases. Most of those cancellations were of its 737 Max jet, which has been grounded in most of the world for more than a year now as the company struggles to fix problems that likely caused two fatal crashes.

March order data has not yet been released, and the most recent estimate for a 737 Max restart is reportedly in May, though the plane’s timeline has been fluid for 12 months and counting.

With fewer orders on the books, and its Seattle-area factories mostly sitting dormant as the coronavirus forces companies large and small to send workers home, Boeing’s stock price has fallen more than 70% in the past year. The company is expected to get billions of dollars from the $2 trillion government bailout package signed into law in March.

As of Thursday, more than 216,000 Americans were confirmed to have been infected by the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. Washington remains a hotspot for the pandemic in the US, with the second-most deaths after New York.

“I can’t predict with certainty what the next few months will bring, ” Calhoun said, “But I can commit to being honest about what’s happening and doing everything we can to protect our people and our business through this crisis. “