Wires

UPDATE 1-Boeing sees at least 2 years before 737 MAX output reaches pre-grounding target

Tracy Rucinski

pre-grounding target@ (Adds details and background)

CHICAGO, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Boeing Co Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith said on Wednesday it will take at least a couple of years before the 737 MAX airplane can be produced at the 57-unit monthly rate that Boeing had targeted before the jet was grounded last year.

The monthly rate would depend largely on supplier inventory, and discussions on the supply chain were "front and center" of daily company calls on the 737 MAX, Smith said at an investor conference.

Before announcing a temporary 737 MAX output freeze in December due to a delay in getting regulatory approval for the aircraft to fly again after two fatal crashes, Boeing had aimed to produce a record 57 737 jets each month at some point in 2021.

The crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia within five months killed 346 people and spurred the global grounding of the plane.

The company's suppliers have been shedding jobs and capacity to cope with the production halt. While that staves off chaos, aerospace executives worry the industry might be unable to ramp up factories quickly enough when the plane wins approval to fly again.

Returning the aircraft safely to service following the two crashes was the "single biggest" cash driver for the planemaker, Smith said.

Speaking separately at the Singapore Airshow, Boeing executives warned that concerns were growing over the impact of travel restrictions to and from China following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which come on top of recent trade tensions and signs an industry cycle is peaking. (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski Editing by Bernadette Baum)