Aero suppliers urged to look beyond Boeing

LYNNWOOD — Boeing has decided to build the new 777X airplane, including its advanced wing, in Washington, but the state’s aerospace industry can’t get complacent and needs to attract more work from other manufacturers, industry analysts said Thursday at an aviation conference.

“The history here in Washington state is that every time we win a project from Boeing, we get complacent, and we can’t have complacency again,” said Scott Hamilton, an analyst with Issaquah-based Leeham Co.

“We still need to look behind Boeing, and we still in my view need to look beyond brick-and-mortar type of aerospace as well,” he said.

For example, as air travel continues to grow, a pilot shortage is expected in coming years, and Washington should develop world-class training programs, Hamilton said.

In terms of more traditional aerospace manufacturing, the state’s industry needs to pursue work with other major airplane makers, such as Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer.

Representatives from those three companies and Boeing all spoke at the three-day conference, annually hosted by the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

The Airbus representatives said they couldn’t comment on the potential for new suppliers from the Pacific Northwest.

But Airbus Americas officials have previously said they plan to do more work with U.S. suppliers. Among the states, Washington already does the second-most business with the company, with about $200 million in purchases a year.

Like Boeing, the company has pushed suppliers to cut costs, said Daniel Wenninger, an executive with the Airbus A350 XWB program in the U.S.

Representatives from three of the aerospace industry’s big jet engine makers — Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation and Pratt &Whitney — discussed their companies’ respective programs.

Bob Saia, a vice president with Pratt &Whitney, said that while the three companies might be pursuing different technological innovations, engine buyers in the end all want the same thing: more powerful, lighter-weight and more-efficient engines.

East Hartford, Conn.-based Pratt &Whitney is focused on refining its engines, which are built for narrow-body and smaller aircraft, and in the near future will leave the wide-body market to GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce, he said.

The company still plans to certify its PW11000G engine for the Airbus A320neo later this year, Saia said.

The fight for the wide-body market has been fierce and will likely increase in the next decade, said Jason Brewer, general manager of GE Engines marketing.

Engine makers can’t bet their company on one technology but have to be ready to deliver the right combination of technology available to meet demand, said Bill Boyd, a senior vice president with Rolls-Royce.

Meantime, in Olympia on Thursday, Washington’s top economist, Steve Lerch, presented the latest forecast from the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which projects a decline of about 7,000 aerospace jobs in the next few years.

The drop is due in part to the fact that Boeing is making airplanes more efficiently and isn’t replacing some retiring workers, Lerch said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com.

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