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Boeing's Bet on Jet-Building Frenzy Rests on Fragile Suppliers

The planemaker depends on a constellation of smaller manufacturers that are seeing worker shortfalls of 10% to 20%.

A 737 MAX 9 at Boeing’s manufacturing facility in Renton, Washington, in 2017.

A 737 MAX 9 at Boeing’s manufacturing facility in Renton, Washington, in 2017.

Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg
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For Boeing Co., the pandemic was just one item on the long list of its existential concerns over the past four years. But after a talent exodus, the twin tragedies of its 737 Max jets falling from the sky, and stiff competition from rivals (on top of Covid’s blow to air travel), the company is gearing up for a production resurgence that will help mount the industry's steepest ramp-up in modern aviation history. 

The comeback rides on whether a Boeing factory south of Seattle can pump out 31 of its cash cow Max jets each month, a 63% jump from its pace in October. The breakneck acceleration is already underway at a time when rival Airbus SE is also pushing the pedal to the floor. And then the real challenge will be to keep steadily moving higher.