Our state has a lot riding on the 787
Boeing now has six new 787s in various stages of flight tests, and the good news is the test results are positive. The company aims to certify the new aircraft and deliver the first of its new composite passenger liners to Japan’s All Nippon Airways before the New Year.
Boeing bet a big chunk of the farm on the high-tech “Dreamliner” and Washington state has an equally big stake in its success. Boeing and its Puget Sound suppliers are a key reason the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett unemployment rate is 9.3 percent compared to 11.3 percent for Portland-Vancouver.
Amazingly, after two years of delays, its order book is holding firm with orders for more than 850 planes. That says a lot about the new technology Boeing incorporated into this plane.
The Dreamliner is the high-tech commercial jet of the future, built for passenger comfort and the environment (it’s 20 percent more fuel-efficient). While many in our state were chagrined that Boeing located a 787 production line in Charleston, S.C ., the company maintains two production lines at Paine Field as well.
Most aviation junkies know all that, but what is really different about the 787 production line is the way it works. There’s no staccato of rivet guns affixing the skin to the aircraft frame and no armies of people scurrying around with wrenches and hammers. Rather, it is remarkably quiet as the airplanes move down the assembly line, workers on computers systematically identifying and installing parts in the proper sequence.
It is an innovative manufacturing plant — the kind the world is built on these days. Consequently, it requires companies like Boeing to continually reinvent its processes and products.
While Boeing has lived through some rather acrimonious strikes, its people are working as a team to keep the company building aircraft in Washington.
Today, Boeing has 72,000 people working in our state, which is more than twice the number of manufacturing jobs in the entire state of Montana. While the 787 is front and center, the company is upgrading and changing its entire fleet to meet customer demands. It must do that in order to survive.
In the process, Boeing, like other manufacturers in our country, is environmentally conscientious. Jim Loftus, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, says three-quarters of the company’s research and development focused on enhancing environmental performance.
Last year alone, Boeing cut enough electricity to serve 270 homes, recycled 2,100 truckloads of waste and reduced greenhouse gases by 69 million tons through its commute reduction programs.
So, where is all of this headed?
First, Boeing and other successful U.S. companies prove every day that customer needs are a more powerful incentive than government edicts. Airlines want comfortable, fuel-efficient planes because they entice people to fly and keep ticket prices affordable.
Second, allowing the private sector to innovate creates jobs and new products. If our government doesn’t foster that philosophy, other places will — and our jobs, factories and tax dollars will migrate with it.
Finally, it is important to recognize that costs matter in our global marketplace. If foreign producers can build the same or better quality products for less, U.S. employers will either leave or go out of business. Either way, the jobs they provide will disappear.
Boeing’s average salary is $80,000 per year. Add another 61 percent for benefits, retirement, vacation, holidays and payroll taxes and the average Boeing job in our state is worth $128,800 each year.
Those 72,000 family-wage jobs averaging $128,800 a year are worth fighting for. But our elected officials must lead that fight by reducing costs and easing our state’s regulatory stranglehold.
Other places are burning the midnight oil to entice away Boeing and our other manufacturers. Are we fighting just as hard to keep them?
Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.