The governor’s aerospace checklist, sans Machinists

Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2014 aerospace progress report has a check mark next to “Secure Boeing 777X work for Washington.”

The report, which was released Tuesday, highlights the state’s considerable efforts but doesn’t give any credit to the Machinists union, which actually ensured the new airplane will be assembled in Washington.

Boeing promised union members that if they passed a concession-laden contract, the 777X line and wing fabrication would be based here. Union members narrowly approved the contract in a Jan. 3 vote.

To be sure, the governor put in many long hours trying to land the 777X, including getting the Legislature to pass the country’s biggest corporate tax break and to allocate some money to workforce training, supporting streamlined permitting and essentially promising Boeing that the state’s water-quality standards won’t be changed without the aerospace company’s considerable input.

We’ll never know if those things alone would have been enough to land the 777X. Maybe Boeing was just bluffing and trying to get a better deal with the Machinists.

Inslee has repeatedly thanked the members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) who approved the contract. It was a bitterly emotional vote, and many members said they resented Inslee and other politicians for inserting themselves into the debate by calling for a second vote after local union leaders had rejected a revised Boeing offer.

Looking forward, the state has to focus on ensuring Boeing can smoothly expand facilities in Everett to make room for the 777X, states the governor’s progress report.

The report is based on the state’s five-year aerospace industry strategy, which Inslee unveiled last May.

Action items include building on the 777X siting decision by recruiting international companies to set up shop in Washington; help Spokane attract large-scale aerospace manufacturing; support research in advanced-materials manufacturing; pass a transportation-funding package that will — among many things — make it easier for goods and people to move around; and expand the aerospace business-and-occupation tax credit.

While the state won the 777X — thanks to the Machinists union, lawmakers and the fact Everett was really the only place that made financial sense — Washington came up short on two big items.

It didn’t convince the U.S. Air Force to consider Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane as a home for the new aerial-refueling tanker fleet. The new tanker, called the Pegasus, is a modified Boeing 767 called the KC-46A and is being built in Everett at Paine Field. Some work will also take place in Seattle at Boeing Field. The program will begin test flights later this year.

The state also lost out on getting the federal government to select it for a unmanned aerial vehicle test site.

Among last year’s successes was Washington State University being tapped to help run the Federal Aviation Administration’s new Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment.

The report’s omission of the Machinists’ role in landing the 777X reminded me of a line made famous by President John Kennedy: “Victory finds a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

While JFK introduced it to the American public, the line was actually written during World War II by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s foreign minister and son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano.

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

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