Inslee touted suppliers in meeting with Airbus

The Associated PressDecember 24, 2013 

Gov. Jay Inslee personally met with an Airbus executive to discuss how the state of Washington and the Boeing rival can work together.

The private gathering occurred in October during an aerospace conference in Seattle, Inslee spokesman David Postman said on Monday after The Associated Press identified the meeting in records obtained under public records law. Postman said the governor talked with Barry Eccleston, the president and CEO of Airbus Americas, for about 20 minutes.

“The bulk of the conversation was the governor touting our suppliers,” Postman said. Eccleston oversees Airbus operations in North and South America.

Washington has been expanding its relationship with Airbus this year, with government officials traveling to the company’s U.S. headquarters and signing a five-year confidentiality agreement to further explore business opportunities. Inslee has said the state is always looking for ways to increase aerospace employment in Washington state, either with Boeing Co. or other companies.

In 2011 and 2012, former Gov. Chris Gregoire met with Airbus officials in Europe as part of a variety of meetings surrounding air shows there. In the recent meeting, Inslee had been invited to speak at an event organized by the British American Business Council, and emails show that Inslee aides worked to arrange a private meeting with Eccleston after the governor’s remarks.

Boeing has a 100-year history in Washington state and is promoted around the world by Washington state politicians. But the company has increasingly been working with other locations, moving its headquarters to Chicago and opening a production line in South Carolina.

Now, as it looks for a cheaper place to build its 777X passenger plane, Boeing has been exploring bids from 22 states that could send thousands of jobs elsewhere.

Postman emphasized the Airbus talks have no connection to Boeing’s looming decision on where it will build the new 777X plane.

ABSENTEE BALLOTS GOOD

Because the contentious Jan. 3 vote on Boeing’s revised contract offer for local machinists will occur when many members of the union are expected to be on vacation, the union is departing from its standard procedures and planning to allow absentee ballots.

A post on the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 751 website Monday said the local leadership “got the International President to grant authority to do a one-time absentee ballot process on a contract vote.”

“We are still working on the details of that process,” said the website post. “These are extraordinary times and our goal is to ensure that every member gets an opportunity to vote.”

News of the scheduled vote on Jan. 3 prompted complaints from many Machinists who said they have already made holiday plans and would not be able to participate.

National union leadership set the vote for Jan. 3 over the objections of local union leaders. Local union representatives say the latest contract offer is too similar to one that was rejected last month.

The latest Boeing offer would still move workers away from a traditional pension plan. However, the company has backed away from a proposal that would have slowed the rate at which employees rise up the pay scale.

MORE DREAMLINER WOES

Separately, Budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle said one of its Boeing Dreamliners was grounded in the United States, the latest in a string of technical problems to hit the new plane.

The newest of the company’s three Dreamliners should have left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for Stockholm on Saturday but was unable to because of technical problems, Norwegian Air said on Monday.

The airline did not give more detail on the nature of the technical problem.

Norwegian Air, Europe’s third-biggest budget airline after Ryanair and EasyJet, launched long-haul operations this year and hoped to capitalize on the Dreamliner’s lower operating costs.

But its first two Dreamliners broke down more than half a dozen times in autumn, forcing it to lease back-up planes at short notice or cancel flights. Since then the airline has added a third Dreamliner to its fleet.

Last week Norwegian Air said it would buy another two 787-9 Dreamliners, seeing the aircraft’s technical advances as outweighing its operating problems as the budget carrier expands in long-haul services.

The Seattle Times and Reuters contributed to this report.

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