April 6 (UPI) -- Boeing Co. announced an extension of a production suspension in its Washington state facilities, and signaled that layoffs and buyouts could be coming, to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
The company's Puget Sound and Moses Lake sites will be closed until further notice because of the spread of the coronavirus, additional advice from state health authorities and supply chain disruptions, the company said in a Sunday statement.
The original shutdown began on March 23 and was scheduled for two weeks.
The Puget Sound facilities are mostly known for constructing commercial aircraft, but the military's KC-46 tanker and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft are built on the same lines. Boeing officials said last month the stoppage is not expected to affect their production too greatly.
Boeing employs about 70,000 people in the region. Last week it announced a two-week closure of facilities in the Philadelphia area for two weeks due to the spread of the virus.
In a letter last week to employees, CEO David Calhoun predicted that the company's recovery from the health crisis will be lengthy.
"When the world emerges from the pandemic, the size of the commercial market and the types of products and services our customers want and need will likely be different," he said. "It's important we start adjusting to our new reality now."
Within several weeks, a buyout package will be offered to some of Boeing's 161,000 U.S. employees. Nearly one-third of its 27,000 unionized machinists are over 55, and with an aging workforce a buyout could find many takers.
While the company appears to be eligible to receive funds from a $17 billion loan available to the aviation industry included in the $2 trillion federal stimulus package it is required to maintain staffing at 90 percent of current levels.