British aerospace firm opening new Sumner plant late this year

A British aerospace firm will bring 75 new jobs to Sumner late this year as it opens a new plant to assemble and paint winglets for Boeing’s 737 Max airliners.

GKN Aerospace will begin production of the split winglets early next year in a 57,000-square-foot Sumner plant. The company is planning renovations for the building to equip it to do that work, said Susan Seuss, senior vice president of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County.

State, Pierce County, Sumner and development board officials have been working with GKN to win the firm’s business since May when GKN contacted the state seeking a plant site.

Seuss, who along with other economic development officials met with GKN last summer at the Farnborough Air Show in England, said the company had space available in a plant it owned in South Carolina to do the assembly work, but preferred a location closer to Boeing’s 737 assembly line in Renton.

GKN and the aerospace division of Korean Airlines will build the blades for the winglets in a GKN plant at Britain’s Isle of Wight and in South Korea. Those blades will be shipped to Sumner where they will be assembled together and painted. They will then be shipped to the 737 plant in Renton for installation on the ends of the wings of the new 737 Max aircraft.

Unlike the upswept winglets now installed on Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft, the new winglets are v-shaped with one blade installed at an upward angle and the other angled downward from the wingtips.

Economic development officials regard the Sumner winglet plant as a foot in the door for Washington that could lead to other GKN work in the Evergreen State. GKN once had a plant in Washington, but closed it when the military contract it handled ended.

“GKN is a really big aerospace supplier,” said Seuss. “It opens up a lot of opportunities.”

“This work expands our role with Boeing on the Advance Technology Winglet, allowing us to provide a turnkey product to the Boeing Renton facility, said GKN Aerostructures North America President Daniele Cagnatel. “Completing the assembly and painting near the 737 Max final assemble site provides logistical advantages and support for emergent requirements. Over the long term, we expect the Sumner site to support additional commercial programs’ assembly and painting needs.”

The state has pledged to help GKN with training for workers at the plant as part of an incentives package to win its business for the state.

One GKN requirement for a new plant was a quick trip through permitting for the painting operation, said Seuss. The space that GKN will occupy was previously leased by a company that had painting operations inside. That prior operation will mean that the issues involved in winning a permit have been investigated previously.

GKN is expected to begin recruiting employees for the plant early this year.

The planes that will use the new winglet are the latest series of Boeing’s best-selling 737. The first of those planes is expected to be delivered to launch customer Southwest Airlines in 2017. The updated planes will employ new engines and aerodynamic improvements to cut fuel consumption by some 14 percent over the best-available single-aisle aircraft sold today.

The winglets are designed to cut the planes’ aerodynamic drag. The less the drag, the less the fuel consumption.

Boeing has some 2,600 orders for the new planes, all of which will be built in Renton.