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United Begging Pilots to Take Unpaid Time Off Amid Boeing Disaster

No PTO

United Airlines is now asking its pilots to take unpaid time off as things keep going wrong at Boeing, from massive production problems to that small matter of all those planes breaking.

As CNBC reports, the late delivery of new Boeing planes, including those in its 737 and 787 fleet, is the primary driver behind the voluntary time-off ask — but there's plenty of reason to believe that headline-grabbing safety issues with its existing planes are slowing things down, too.

In a memo to members viewed by CNBC, the United chapter of the pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association, requested that pilots take leave without pay in May and potentially through the summer.

The appeal comes not only after reports of major production delays at Boeing, but also the spate of news stories in 2024 about the company's planes malfunctioning or otherwise breaking apart during flights.

Low Supply

Just a few weeks after a piece of plane door blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 during an Alaska Airlines flight to Portland, Oregon in January, United CEO Scott Kirby expressed frustration with the aerospace manufacturer and said the airline was considering an alternative supplier.

"I think the Max 9 grounding is probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for us," Kirby told CNBC's Squawk Box, referencing the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to ground the entire Max 9 fleet over the fuselage incident.  "We’re going to at least build a plan that doesn’t have the Max 10 in it."

As the Associated Press reports on the airline's reduced staffing request, Boeing was supposed to deliver 191 planes to United this year and 127 next year, but the airline now expects to only get 88 for 2024 and 64 for 2025. Most of those shortcomings involve 737s and are likely related to the forthcoming Max 10 remaining uncertified by the FAA — a delay that's now become so severe that United straight up told Boeing to stop building them.

"We’ve asked Boeing to stop building Max 10s, which they’ve done, for us, and start building Max 9s," Kirby said during a JPMorgan investor conference last month, per Bloomberg. "It’s impossible to say when the Max 10 is going to get certified."

With Boeing's CEO ultimately resigning over ongoing safety concerns with its planes and the company being under intense scrutiny following the alleged suicide of one of its whistleblowers, pausing those builds might have been a good move — and the relationship between the airline and its primary plane manufacturer may grow even tenser if and when these problems affect the summer travel season.

More on Boeing's woes: Commander of First Boeing Astronaut Launch Issues Warning