By Mike Benbow Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Boeing Co. celebrated the start of its 1,000th 767 on Tuesday, saying it hoped a successful bid for a new U.S. Air Force tanker will mean it will produce many more.
Calling the 1,000th jet a career milestone for the aircraft, Kim Pastega, a Boeing vice president and 767 general manager, pushed a button to ready the wing spar for the aircraft.
The left spar, which holds up the wing, is the beginning of all 767s. “The spar build is where it all happens,” Pastega said. “We’re looking to the future with the potential tanker contract and 20 additional years of production.”
Pastega noted that the company has 55 orders now for the 767. If it gets the $35 billion deal for the new tanker, it would make 179 more of those in the initial contract.
Boeing officials said earlier that a tanker win for the company would create 50,000 jobs in the United States, including 9,000 in Washington state.
Airbus parent EADS is competing with Boeing to build the replacement for the tanker, developed during the 1950s, that the government has been trying to retire for nearly a decade.
The government is expected to make a decision on the contract late this year or early next year. And analysts said whatever the Air Force decides, the issue likely will wind up in court.
Pastega said it’s an exciting time for the 767.
In addition to the 767’s possible use as the Air Force’s new tanker, it also is getting a new production line inside the Everett plant that Pastega said should be ready by the end of this year. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to focus on being more efficient,” she said of the new line.
The new 767 production area will have a smaller footprint, so it would use less space in the world’s largest building by volume. Boeing also expects to add some efficiencies that would allow it to build 767s faster than it has in the past, Pastega said.
Workers also will build a new giant sliding door in the building to remove the 767s from the new assembly line.
Pastega said the company is in the middle of stepping up production from one 767 a month to 1.5. It plans to go to two a month next summer.
All Nippon Airways, the launch customer for the 787, will get the 1,000th 767, Pastega said.
She said the 767 is important because it has carved out many routes and was the first to fly an extended twin engine.
“Its legacy is really big in terms of what it has done in aviation history,” she said. “We would compare this (the 1,000th aircraft) to one of those milestones that happens in life.”
Pastega, formerly the director of manufacturing for the 777, was recently moved to the 767 program, replacing Elizabeth Lund, who is the new deputy manager of the 747.