Pierce County finishes behind Everett in contest for new Boeing factory

Staff writerFebruary 18, 2014 

Pierce County's long-shot effort to land a new plant to build the high-tech composite wings for Boeing's newest airliner proved futile Tuesday.

The aerospace company announced it will build the wing fabrication plant adjacent to its Everett Paine Field wide-body aircraft assembly plant.

In the end, the difficulty of transporting the 114-foot-long wings, among the longest ever built for an airliner, to the Everett final assembly hall torpedoed Pierce County's chances of seeing the wing factory built on Boeing's Frederickson site.

"I'll give credit for Boeing looking at all of the possibilities," said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. "I believe there proved to be some obstacles to getting the wings transported by rail to the Port of Tacoma where they would be sent by water to Everett, and moving them by truck wasn't feasible."

McCarthy and her economic development team met twice with Boeing officials -- the last time just two weeks ago --  to discuss how Boeing's Frederickson plant could play a role in building the updated plane.

Boeing announced its decision to build the wing plant in Everett Tuesday morning ending weeks of speculation about where the structure -- reportedly about a million square feet in area -- would be sited. 

"Locating the new composite wing center in Everett is a win for all of our teammates and partners," said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President & CEO Ray Conner. "This will put our workforce on the cutting edge of composite technology and allow us to build on the infrastructure and logistics system we have in Everett. This decision will strengthen the company's competitiveness and help it grow for the long term."

The wing plant is important for several reasons.  Boeing has said it will employ up to 2,700 workers and that its construction could cost up to $1 billion.

The decision to build the 777X's composite wing in Everett is also a positive for the future of aircraft manufacturing technology both in Washington and the United States.

Boeing builds its composite wing for its 787 Dreamliner model aircraft in Japan.  Economic development officials had worried that the U.S. would lose any advantage in composite construction it possessed if the next composite was built overseas.

Until the 787, airliner wings were built of aluminum and other metals. But composites represent the future of aircraft construction because of their strength and light weight.

The win for Everett came at a high price for the state and for Boeing workers.  In order to win final assembly of the 777X and wing construction, the Legislature approved $9 billion in tax breaks for the aerospace industry, and Boeing union machinists endorsed a 10-year labor agreement that froze defined benefit pensions and cut back on traditional raises. 

That labor agreement was rejected in the first vote and narrowly approved in a controversial second vote by union members.

Boeing had said it would build the plane and the wing elsewhere unless union members agreed to the leaner new contract.

Pierce County had promoted building the wings in Frederickson because Boeing already has a plant there building composite tails for the 777 and 787, because Toray Composites makes the basic raw material for composite structures at a plant in Frederickson and because Boeing has ample land for expansion on that site.

County Executive McCarthy said Boeing officials have assured her that despite the decision to build the wings in Everett, the Frederickson plant and its 1,800 workers have a bright future with Boeing. 

"We will certainly maintain our workforce and even grow at Frederickson," she said.

Boeing said it plans to build the wing plant north of the existing wide-bodied plant at Paine Field. The exact site has yet to be determined. Construction on that plant is expected to begin later this year.

Boeing has already booked billions of dollars in orders for the 777X. That plane will be equipped not only with new wings but also new engines and a stretched fuselage to make it perhaps the most fuel-efficient plane on a seat-mile basis in the world.

The first 777X is due to enter commercial service in late 2019 or early 2020.


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