LYNNWOOD — A skilled, productive labor force, reasonable energy costs and decent infrastructure.
These are potential strengths for Washington as it makes its case to land the manufacturing site for the next plane being developed by the Boeing Co., said Richard Aboulafia, a vice president for the Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy.
He’s been hired to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the state by Choose Washington Council, a coalition of representatives of local and state government, and business and labor organizations. He promised to deliver a neutral, data-driven report.
“I’m doing my best to not be a cheerleader, to make this rigorous and impartial,” Aboulafia said. “We’ve never done cheerleading and I’m not about to start, but I’d like to think we can add some value in helping them come up with a competitive bid and a competitive message.”
Aboulafia is one of the speakers at the 17th annual Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference in Lynnwood this week. About 400 aerospace executives from all over the globe are attending the event.
Outside of the conference, Aboulafia spoke about how he and two economists will try to quantify what Boeing will score when making its decision. His firm is being paid $55,000 for the analysis, expected in April.
The new plane is likely to be a twin-aisle, mid-market aircraft, informally dubbed the 797. It would fit somewhere between the largest 737 and the smallest 787. With 200 to 270 seats, it would fill a niche left by the discontinuation of the Renton-built 757.
Boeing officials, who first discussed the plane openly at the Paris Air Show in June, aren’t expected to commit to this new plane before summer and only then start thinking about where it would be assembled.
Aboulafia said he expects the new plane will have an incrementally higher level of automation and composites. Those will make energy costs a factor in the final decision. Land costs will also be a factor in the decision.
“I don’t think it will be a deal-killer,” he said. “It’s definitely going impact the discussion. It’s probably not going to be the best place for Puget Sound to shine the way it does in workforce skills, but it will not be bad either.”
He said he’d be flattered if Boeing officials took a look at the numbers produced in the report. There are things that are difficult to measure, such as the risks of an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, although he noted that storms and hurricanes can affect areas in the South.
The state and county have a strong cluster of aerospace jobs, Aboulafia said. That makes the area competitive with any other region. Within the state, Snohomish County has at least one advantage over other areas such as Moses Lake or Spokane, he said.
“There’s always an advantage to being on the coast so you can have that competitive tension between shipping and flying,” he said.
Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; email@example.com; @HBJnews.