By cutting production the aircraft maker can keep the facility open a few months beyond its projected shutdown date in mid-2012.
With slowing orders, Boeing Co. said Tuesday that it planned to cut by a third the production rate of its C-17 military cargo airplanes at its plant in Long Beach.
The move is likely to entail layoffs, but the Chicago company said it did not know exactly how many jobs would be lost. The plant employs about 5,000 people.
Boeing said the plant could stay open longer by reducing production to 10 aircraft a year from 15.
"This move allows us to reduce the annual production rate and lay the foundation to extend the line beyond 2012 with new and existing orders," Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said.
At the current rate, the plant is slated to close in mid-2012. The new production schedule would extend the life of the line several more months, if there are no new orders.
The C-17, a massive four-engine cargo plane that has been a workhorse in Iraq, Afghanistan and humanitarian missions, has been in production since the early 1990s. Lawmakers like the plane because its parts come from more than 650 suppliers in 43 states, so they keep ordering more. Congress recently approved funding for 10 new C-17s, even though the Air Force has said it doesn't need any more.
By slowing production the company is essentially buying itself some time, Drelling said, so that the U.S. and foreign governments can "take a closer look at purchasing more planes."