More than 15 months after grounding Boeing's 737 Max, the Federal Aviation Administration conducted the first in a series of certification test flights of the aircraft Monday, a pivotal step toward allowing the troubled plane to return to service.

The news sent Boeing's stock soaring, as the aerospace giant's share price climbed more than 14% on Monday. The 737 Max is the company's best-selling commercial jet ever. Nearly 5,000 of the planes were on back-order at the time the plane was grounded last March.

The Range | June 19, 2020

Jun 19, 2020
U.S. Air Force

Spirit AeroSystems wants to more than double its defense work — a strategy that's been in the works but is more important now that commercial aviation has taken such a hit.

This week on The Range, we talk to an aviation and defense expert about why the company's goal could be doable.

We also head to Yoder, where the owner of a hardware store is keeping things distinctly, and deliberately, behind the times.

Hugo Phan / KMUW

2020 has not been kind to aviation manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems. The continued grounding of the Boeing 737 Max — the company's most important program — was compounded by a near shutdown of commercial air traffic because of the pandemic. That has resulted in thousands of layoffs at Spirit since January, along with furloughs and pay cuts.

Despite the drumbeat of bad news, Spirit has consistently remained optimistic when discussing one topic: its defense programs.

Spirit says about 15% of its revenue comes from defense work. It wants to grow that number to 40%.

Hugo Phan / KMUW/File photo

Spirit AeroSystems will furlough all of its hourly employees still working on the Boeing 737 Max program for 21 days.

The furloughs will begin Monday and will affect about 900 people, the company said in a news release Wednesday.

Updated at 8:40 p.m. ET

Boeing is cutting more than 12,000 jobs as the Chicago-based airplane manufacturer copes with the sudden drop in air travel demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hugo Phan / KMUW

Spirit AeroSystems announced Friday it would lay off 1,450 employees at its Wichita plant amid the reduced demand for commercial airplanes.

It was the latest blow for what traditionally has been Wichita’s largest employer.

Friday’s news follows layoffs in January, a production halt in March and furloughs in April.

The company’s initial problems were caused by the grounding of Boeing’s troubled 737 Max, Spirit’s most important program.

The latest setbacks are a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has decimated commercial air travel globally.

Elaine Thompson/AP/NPR

Spirit AeroSystems says it will begin a “phased-in return to work” for some of its furloughed employees.

The statement follows an announcement Thursday by Boeing that it will resume commercial airplane production at its Seattle-area facilities next week.

“As our customer Boeing begins to resume production, Spirit AeroSystems will work with our employees, customers and suppliers to begin a phased-in return to work for some furloughed employees,” Spirit said in a statement.

Elaine Thompson/AP/NPR

Wichita’s already weakened economy took another blow with the news that Spirit AeroSystems will furlough a number of workers for three weeks.

The furloughs will affect employees who work directly on any Boeing commercial program, according to a Facebook post from Local Lodge 839 of the Machinist Union.

Elaine Thompson/AP/NPR

Spirit AeroSystems said it will halt production on all Boeing work for two weeks.

In a news release Tuesday, the company said employees who are idled by the suspension will be paid. The production halt begins Wednesday and will run through April 8 at Spirit’s operations in Wichita and Oklahoma.

The action follows Boeing’s announcement this week that it would suspend production at its plants in Washington state for two weeks beginning Wednesday.

Federal aviation regulators issued a new round of safety fixes for Boeing's beleaguered 737 Max jetliners, mandating repairs to sections of the planes that could make them vulnerable to lightning strikes and other activity which might result in engine malfunction.

The proposed fix issued by the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday said certain panels on the planes, including the metallic layer that serves as part of the shielding for aircraft wiring, is susceptible to potential "electromagnetic effects of lightning strikes or high intensity radiated fields."