Boeing beginning search for Washington site for composite wing plant

Staff writerJanuary 6, 2014 

Boeing's Frederickson plant site is in play in the competition to become the site of Boeing's newest, high-technology plant.

Now that Machinists Union workers last week voted to accept an 8-year labor contract in return for Boeing's pledge to build its new 777X and its composite wing in the Evergreen State, the competition for Boeing's newest plant shifts to several sites within Washington.

While the state and Boeing won't disclose what sites are under consideration for that wing plant, at least four, Everett, Frederickson, Moses Lake and Spokane, are reportedly among those being considered.

Bruce Kendall, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, said Monday local development officials have talked with Boeing about using the 300 vacant acres at Boeing's Frederickson plant or one of its existing structures there to build the plane's composite wings.

Those wings are particularly attractive as industrial development recruitment targets because the aerospace industry is moving to composite-reinforced plastics as the basic material from which airliners are built.

Boeing's first composite wing for one of its airliners, the 787 Dreamliner wing, is built in Japan by a Boeing partner.

Boeing, which makes the wings of its other airliner wings from metal, decided to build the wing for the 777X in the United States, and with the acceptance of a new contract by local union machinists, to Washington.

"Now that the voting is over, we need to re-engage with Boeing about the prospects for bringing that wing plant to Frederickson," said Kendall.

Boeing spokesman Scott Lefeber said Boeing has made no decision yet on where to build the wing plant.

Some union members, upset that last week's hotly contested vote will cause them to move from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan and because of other concessions in that pact, Monday were calling for the union to recount the ballots, reported Reuters.

The new contract passed by some 600 votes, giving the side campaigning for acceptance a 51 percent majority.

Union members in November had rejected a similar offer from Boeing with 67 percent of the union vote.

The contract was resubmitted to union members last week after Boeing increased one-time payments to union members by $5,000, bolstered the dental plan and abandoned its plan to stretch out the time it takes new employees to reach the top of the pay scale.

After the first union contract rejection, Boeing sought offers from other states for the final assembly and wing fabrication site. The company received responses from 22 states touting 54 potential plant sites.

Kendall said that the Frederickson site has much to recommend it.

Besides the availability of vacant land that Boeing already owns, the Frederickson site already manufactures major metal wing parts and composite tail structures for the existing 777 and 787.

Japan's Toray Composites has built a plant adjacent to the Boeing site where it manufactures composite tape, which is the basic ingredient from which composite aircraft parts are fabricated.

The Frederickson workforce already has years of experience building composite structures, and local schools such as Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood already offer composite materials fabrication courses.

"Frederickson employs the most sophisticated technologies within the Boeing Co. to build composite parts, so we have a headstart on other sites," said Kendall.

The Frederickson plant now employs about 1,800 workers. A consultant hired by the Economic Development Board estimated that as many as 4,000 to 5,000 workers could by employed at the wing fabrication facility at full production.

The Frederickson site will have strong competition from Everett, the presumed site of the final assembly plant for the 777X. Local government there have reportedly offered to build Boeing a wing fabrication plant there and lease it back to Boeing.

Boeing could raise some existing structures near its huge wide-body assembly plant there and build a new structure or repurpose a large hangar it bought from Everett's Aviation Technical Services near the assembly plant for wing fabrication.

Moses Lake, the site of a plant that produces composite materials for Germany's BMW, has the advantage of inexpensive electricity from Columbia River dams and a large airport that was once an Air Force Base to use to land the planes that might carry the wings to Everett.

While the Frederickson plant has potential advantages over its competitors, one issue is how to transport the finished wings to Everett.

The plane's wingspan will 20 feet wider than the existing 777 with each wing about 114 feet long.

Kendall said the finished wings could be trucked or possible sent by rail to Everett or transported to the Port of Tacoma where they could be loaded aboard a barge for movement to Mukilteo and transported from there via a special rail line to the Everett Boeing plant at the top of the hill above Mukilteo.




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