Airlines face the prospect of further delays in receiving Boeing 737 Max aircraft as the manufacturer suspended production of the troubled aircraft.

Boeing confirmed last night that the construction of new Max aircraft would be halted in January.

Instead, the US aviation firm is to prioritise the delivery of around 400 aircraft in storage once regulators approve a return to service.

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The new generation Max, ordered by airlines such as Ryanair and British Airways, has been grounded since March after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed a total of 346 people.

The US Federal Aviation Administration last week confirmed that the Max would not be certified to fly again until 2020. Boeing had hoped the Max would be cleared to fly again before the end of this year.

The firm said: “We have previously stated that we would continually evaluate our production plans should the Max grounding continue longer than we expected.

“As a result of this ongoing evaluation, we have decided to prioritise the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 programme beginning next month.

“We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health.

“This decision is driven by a number of factors, including the extension of certification into 2020, the uncertainty about the timing and conditions of return to service and global training approvals, and the importance of ensuring that we can prioritise the delivery of stored aircraft.”

Boeing pointed out that the FAA and global regulatory authorities determine the timeline for certification and return to service.

“We remain fully committed to supporting this process. It is our duty to ensure that every requirement is fulfilled, and every question from our regulators answered,” the manufacturer added.

“Throughout the grounding of the 737 Max, Boeing has continued to build new airplanes and there are now approximately 400 airplanes in storage.

“Safely returning the 737 Max to service is our top priority. We know that the process of approving the 737 MAX’s return to service, and of determining appropriate training requirements, must be extraordinarily thorough and robust, to ensure that our regulators, customers, and the flying public have confidence in the 737 MAX updates.”

The manufacturer added that it would “continue to assess our progress towards return to service milestones and make determinations about resuming production and deliveries accordingly”.

No staff lay-offs are expected at this stage, with affected staff continuing on 737-related work, or temporarily assigned to other teams.

“As we have throughout the 737 Max grounding, we will keep our customers, employees, and supply chain top of mind as we continue to assess appropriate actions,” Boeing said.

“This will include efforts to sustain the gains in production system and supply chain quality and health made over the last many months.”

The financial impact of the production suspension will be disclosed when the company releases its fourth quarter earnings in late January.

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