Boeing storing 737 MAX aircraft in Moses Lake

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Seven Boeing 737 MAX aircraft sitting at the Grant County International Airport. The plane was grounded earlier this year after two fatal crashes linked to a software problem, and will be here until that issue is resolved.

MOSES LAKE — With the company running out of space elsewhere, aircraft giant Boeing has announced it will store some of its 737 MAX aircraft at the Grant County International Airport.

“I can confirm that in addition to our Puget Sound facilities and the Boeing San Antonio site, we will temporarily store airplanes in Moses Lake as part of our inventory management plan,” wrote Paul Bergman, a spokesman for the company, in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

Bergman would not say how many 737 MAX aircraft would be stored in Moses Lake, or for how long, but currently eight aircraft in various liveries — including Southwest, Korean Air, Ukraine International Airlines and United — were visible sitting in front of the company's hanger here in Moses Lake.

The MAX is the most recent version of Boeing's short- and medium-haul narrow-body passenger jet that first entered service in 1968, and has been grounded since March of this year after fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, which were allegedly related to a software problem.

“They started showing up the weekend of the air show,” said Rich Mueller, airport director for the Port of Moses Lake.

Mueller said the planes are currently parked on a portion of the roughly 100 acres that Boeing owns and has, in the past, used to store parts and machine tools, at the Port of Moses Lake.

“They are all on Boeing property. Boeing was here before the Port was here,” Mueller said. “We've offered to lease space to Boeing, but we do not have an agreement.”

“Boeing has been here for the Port (of Moses Lake) and the airport many times,” he added. “We stand by them ready and willing to assist when we are asked.”

A number of Boeing personnel are also in Moses Lake to supervise the operation, though Bergman would not say how many.

“We do not provide specific numbers on capacity and workforce. We are staffing all storage locations appropriately in order to deliver airplanes in a timely manner once we have regulatory approval,” he said.

Boeing is currently working on a fix for the software problem, which must be approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. However, the plane is expected to remain grounded through at least August, though the company's chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, has said the plane will fly by the end of the year.

“When the FAA approves the fix, then the aircraft will work their way toward delivery,” Mueller said.

Despite the problems with the 737 MAX, UK-based International Airlines Group — the parent company of British Airways and Ireland's Aer Lingus as well as several other European airlines — announced at the Paris Air Show this week it was buying 200 of the 737 MAX aircraft in a deal worth $24 billion.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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