Boeing could locate plants overseas, state aerospace recruiter says

john.gillie@thenewstribune.comJuly 18, 2013 

As a global company, Boeing ultimately may spread its commercial aircraft manufacturing activities far beyond the Puget Sound area and its new assembly site in South Carolina, Washington’s chief aerospace recruiter told a gathering of aerospace industry executives Wednesday.

Alex Pietsch, director of the Washington State Office of Aerospace, told the Pierce County Aerospace Summit that the company may follow its rival Airbus in dispersing its factories more widely.

Boeing builds the majority of its commercial aircraft at two sites in the Puget Sound area, Renton and Everett.

In recent years, the company has built a new factory in Charleston, S.C., where it assembles 787 Dreamliners.

Airbus, Pietsch said, has plans to build its single-aisle A320 models at five sites, and it may begin building its wide-bodied planes outside Europe soon. Airbus broke ground for a new A320 assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., in April.

Pietsch said Boeing seems committed to expanding its presence in South Carolina, but the company’s plans at some point may even include building some of its jetliners overseas, he said.

“The successor to the 737 Max could be built in factories in Renton and in Singapore,” he said.

State and local government and economic development officials as well as aerospace union members were successful two years ago in persuading Boeing to build all of its 737 Max aircraft in Renton.

The 737 Max is an upgraded version of the world’s best-selling jetliner. The first Max is to be delivered to customers in 2017.

State and local governments and their allies in the Washington aerospace industries are sparing no effort to keep as much of Boeing’s manufacturing business here as possible, he said.

Their current goal is to win Boeing’s favor in deciding where to assemble its new 777X wide-bodied jet. The 777 jet is now being assembled at Boeing’s plant at Everett’s Paine Field.

Boeing may announce its decision to proceed with the 777X in November at or just before the Dubai Air Show, he said. The 777X will feature new engines, a modified or new wing and a stretched fuselage to make the twin-aisle plane more fuel efficient.

The state will use an old but never used tool to help win the 777X for Washington, said Pietsch. Under a law passed in 1997, state and local governments can expedite the granting of building permits for a new factory if the plant is deemed to be a project of statewide significance.

Pierce County business and government leaders said they too are working hard to retain and recruit aerospace business to the local area.

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy told aerospace industry leaders gathered Wednesday at Clover Park Technical College that she and Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board President Bruce Kendall traveled to the Paris Air Show in June to sell Pierce County and Washington state.

McCarthy said that the two visited with dozens of companies about locating their aerospace businesses in Pierce County. Three strong prospects emerged, said Kendall, one from Italy, another from Belgium and the other from North Carolina. One of those companies plans to visit Pierce County this month.

Pietsch said that in addition to retaining and growing Boeing’s business, Washington aerospace companies are doing work for other major aerospace companies. Thirty-nine percent of Washington companies are doing business with Airbus. Twenty-five percent have contracts with Canada’s Bombardier.

Pietsch said that even if Boeing does disperse some of its work, the growing demand for aircraft will continue to provide thousands of jobs in the Evergreen State. Aerospace industry forecasts show a demand for 35,000 new planes between now and 2032.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663 john.gillie@thenewstribune.com

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