The Boeing Co. told its employees Wednesday that “much of the detailed design work” on the new 777X widebody would be done outside Washington state’s Puget Sound area, but the head of the company’s white-collar union cautioned against interpreting the news as a major blow to the local engineering workforce.
Boeing said Wednesday that the design work “will be carried out by Boeing engineering teams in Charleston (S.C.), Huntsville (Ala.), Long Beach (Calif.), Philadelphia and St. Louis.” The company’s design center in Moscow would also contribute, a memo said.
The internal message from Mike Delaney, head of engineering, and Scott Fancher, head of new airplane development, said that “at this time, no decisions have been made about 777X design or build in Puget Sound.”
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee called Boeing’s decision “disappointing” and vowed to “compete boldly and aggressively to win this work.”
Gov. Inslee has proposed extending a package of tax incentives, among other measures, to persuade Boeing to put 777X design and assembly work at its giant factory in Everett, where the current 777 is made, and keep work in the Puget Sound region, which encompasses Everett, Seattle, Renton and Frederickson, where Boeing has facilities. Boeing makes the tail assembly and major wing parts for the existing 777 in Frederickson.
The governor learned specifics of Boeing’s plan Wednesday morning, said Alex Pietsch, director of the governor’s aerospace office.
Ray Goforth, executive director of Boeing’s white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, described the memo as “inflammatory” and said “the way it was phrased sent some people panicking.”
Detailed design work on Boeing’s previous new airplane program, the 787 Dreamliner, was largely outsourced to major partners, including Japanese and Italian suppliers.
This time around, it’s being kept within Boeing.
“I see this as Boeing bringing work back in, as opposed to moving work out of Puget Sound,” said Goforth.
Detailed design is just part of the overall engineering and design effort needed to build the 777X.
Goforth said that 777X design work will consist initially of “a fairly large chunk of core engineering” that will define the overall airplane, especially the size and shape of the new composite wing, the power and size of the new engines, and the impact those new structural elements have on the loads to be borne by the fuselage, the tail and the landing gear.
Then detailed design is done on the different pieces: the innards of the new wing, the nacelle pods that encase the new engines, the insert plug that stretches the fuselage, the landing gear.
But all those different design pieces must be coordinated and integrated to make sure the overall airplane design still works as a whole.
Goforth said that both the initial core engineering and the later integration of the detailed design of all the separate pieces will have to be done by Boeing’s engineers in Washington state.
“The centers of experience for commercial airplane design are here in Puget Sound,” said Goforth. “I think there’s no doubt Puget Sound will play the key integrating role. Boeing just doesn’t have the capacity anywhere else, frankly.”
Some of the detailed design on the 747-8, which, like 777X, was a derivative model rather than an all-new airplane, was done in Boeing’s Moscow design center.
But the overall design and integration work was done in Everett.
Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said no negative inference should yet be drawn about the possibilities for 777X engineering work in Washington state.
“It hasn’t been decided yet,” said Birtel. “Not that there will not be Puget Sound involvement.”
Still, the announcement is another aggressive move in the strategy announced by Delaney last spring to distribute commercial airplane engineering work around the company rather than having it concentrated in Washington state.
In an internal message in May, Delaney said Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes unit would establish three domestic engineering design centers — in Washington state, Southern California and South Carolina — as well as one international design center in Moscow, and would also create formal ties to smaller engineering teams in Philadelphia and Huntsville.
“Our goal is to leverage skills from across the Boeing enterprise,” Wednesday’s message said, adding with regard to 777X that “a program of this size requires that we bring together all of the talent that Boeing has to offer.”
Boeing in Washington state employs about 15,700 engineers and 7,500 technical professionals. In southern California, it has some 1,200 engineers and in North Charleston about 1,000 engineers. The Moscow design center employs about 1,200 Russian and Ukrainian engineers.
Scott Hamilton at aviation consultancy Leeham Co. in Seattle told Reuters the decision to move 777X engineering work was a blow to Washington state’s effort to keep all things 777X in the state and “may well be the harbinger that final assembly will wind up elsewhere, presumably Charleston.”Reuters and staff writer John Gillie contributed to this report.