Air show, biofuels on busy aerospace agenda

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

SEATAC — There’s a lot on the horizon for Washington’s aerospace industry: an upcoming international air show, landing Boeing Co.’s updated 777, and positioning the state as an aviation biofuels hotspot.

Those lucrative opportunities and what the state is doing to capitalize on them were topics of discussion for the Washington Council on Aerospace, which met Thursday. The council consists of representatives of industry and labor, and of commerce, education and state government.

“We are keenly focused on Boeing’s intentions on the latest iteration of the 777 — the 777X,” said Alex Pietsch, who chairs the council and serves as the director of the governor’s Aerospace Office.

Boeing officials have said they would go to the company’s board of directors with a plan for refreshing the popular Everett-built 777 by year’s end. Recently, however, Jim Albaugh, president of Renton-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes, indicated the company is more focused on developing a slightly larger version of the 787 before turning attention to the 777.

Pietsch indicated that the state might not need to pursue the 777X the way it did to land manufacture of the 737 MAX, Boeing’s re-engined single-aisle jet. For that, the state had an outside research firm conduct a competitiveness study late last year, complete with recommendations for Washington. Boeing and the local district of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) inked a deal for keeping the MAX in Renton before the state implemented many of those recommendations. Continuing that effort could be the state’s way forward on the 777X, Pietsch said.

The most immediate opportunity for Washington is the Farnborough International Airshow, held in July outside London. Jet makers like Boeing and Airbus typically make a splash at the show by announcing large orders for aircraft. But it’s also a place for their suppliers to strike deals, as well.

Gov. Chris Gregoire will lead a trade delegation that includes 10 aerospace suppliers and three exhibitors, like the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing in Everett. More than 50 companies in the state also will be attending the air show but will have their own booths, said Monica Wiedrich of the state Commerce Department.

It’s the largest contingent from Washington to attend Farnborough, which is held every other year, alternating with the Paris Air Show. Wiedrich said the governor is seeking to generate $10 million in long-term sales by participating.

Wiedrich, like Pietsch, also was enthusiastic about the state’s opportunities in biofuels. Boeing and Airbus have both worked with airlines and research groups to come up with long-term, sustainable alternatives to oil. Boeing is interested in biofuel as a means to help stabilize fuel prices and to cut emissions, not as a new business segment, a company official told community leaders in Everett last week.

The state’s opportunities in aerospace depend both on its ability to foster a steady supply of workers and to lobby for new business. The council has been focused on boosting education and aerospace training efforts over the past year. Lobbying has been left largely to the Washington Aerospace Partnership, in which Pietsch plays a role.