Only seven weeks after announcing that it will complete production of the C-17 airlifter at its Long Beach plant in 2015, the Boeing Company is contemplating a new role for the 5,000 workers at the site — assembling the company’s new 777X airliner. With costs rising at the Boeing commercial-transport hub around Puget Sound, executives are analyzing whether the plane can be developed and produced less expensively at a different site. The performance of the 777X is expected to significantly exceed that of the Airbus widebodies against which it competes, but Boeing needs to make sure the price-tag is attractive too so that it can take market share. The company has already initiated discussions with the machinists’ union local in the Puget Sound region about what terms it is seeking when the current contract must be renewed in 2016, but Long Beach is an appealing alternative because it has a mature workforce with large-airframe experience that is hungry for new opportunities now that it knows C-17 production is ending. There are only two sites outside Puget Sound where large jets are currently being built in the U.S., the other being Boeing’s new 787 plant in South Carolina. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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