Boeing Breaks Ground On 777X Wing Factory

August 13, 2014

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Boeing executives and Washington state political leaders took sledgehammers to a 1960s office block on Wednesday to start clearing the way for a factory that will make composite wings for the 777X.

The new 1.3-million-square-foot composite wing factory reflects Boeing's desire to bring more of its operations under its own roof. The previous generation of composite wings, used on the 787 Dreamliner, are made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.

"We're going to be a here for a long, long time," Boeing commercial planes chief executive Ray Conner told a crowd of about 100 that included politicians, senior Boeing executives, employees and officials from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.

CHANGE OF STRATEGY

The decision to build the wing in the US marks a major shift in Boeing's strategy after it outsourced wings and other major parts of the 787 to suppliers around the world, a process that led to production problems and contributed to the aircraft being three years late to customers.

Boeing's decision should also ensure stability and growth for hundreds of suppliers located near the factory and across the state, who will provide 777X components.

"We're bringing this wing home from where it is built for the 787. It is a hometown wing," Governor Jay Inslee said.

The new wing factory will house three of the world's largest autoclaves used for curing composite material.

The building will be occupied starting in 2016. The first 777X is due to be delivered in 2020. The new jet, which carries a list price of up to USD$389 million and has 286 orders, is expected to be 12 percent more fuel efficient than the current 777, which was introduced in 1995 and has become one of Boeing's most popular wide-body planes.

Conner thanked the machinists' union for approving an eight-year extension to their contract earlier this year. The agreement essentially traded union members' defined-benefit pension plan for the guarantee of future work on the 777X.

Boeing said the extension was necessary to ensure the wing factory and the 777X assembly plant would be located in Washington, and not in another state. But the vote bitterly divided union members.

Local IAM President Ron Coen, who was among the guests taking a swing at the wall, told the crowd he didn't agree with the vote.

"But that's the past," he said. "We're here today about the future, about promises made and kept by the Boeing Company."

(Reuters)