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Spirit AeroSystems Offering Employees Voluntary Layoffs

Elaine Thompson/AP/NPR

Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita is offering voluntary layoffs to employees as uncertainty over Boeing’s 737 Max continues into the new year.

Spirit said in a statement Monday — the first day back for many employees after an extended holiday break — that the offer is being made to eligible employees in Wichita, as well as Tulsa and McAlester in Oklahoma.

The company is Wichita's largest private employer with more than 13,000 workers.

In its announcement last month that it would halt production of the troubled jetliner, Spirit said it was "evaluating all potential actions to align its cost base with lower production levels expected in 2020."

Gov. Laura Kelly has committed state aid to Spirit workers if needed, including unemployment benefits.

Employees learned about the buyout offer with terms depending on union contracts for workers in a memo from CEO Tom Gentile. He said the company still has no clear idea of when Max production will resume.

"We are discussing different scenarios with Boeing but nothing has been decided," Gentile wrote.

He said the company will likely have to make decisions about cutting jobs in the days and weeks ahead because of expected lower production rates when the Boeing work returns.

Gentile did not say how many employees the company would like to see leave. Spirit has about 17,000 employees, including 15,000 in the U.S.

The Boeing 737, including the Max, represents more than half of Spirit's revenue.

Boeing expects to temporarily shut down production of the Max, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months, after two crashes killed 346 people. The assembly line near Seattle will shut down in mid-January.

The company said Monday that it does not plan layoffs. In a memo to employees, Boeing said some of the 3,000 affected Max workers will be reassigned to the 777 and 787 jets, some will oversee storage of parked jets in Washington state and Southern California, and some will draw other assignments.

Boeing hasn't said how long production will be halted.

The company still has work to complete before it can win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for changes it is making to software and other systems on the plane. The FAA has said repeatedly it has no timetable for approving Boeing's work.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.