Boeing breaks ground on 777X wing plant at Paine Field

EVERETT — Excavators and backhoes hummed in the background as Boeing executives and politicians shoveled dirt at a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday for the company’s 777X wing fabrication center.

New technology and thousands of jobs are expected to come with the new airplane production program.

Boeing chose to manufacture carbon-fiber-composite wings and do final assembly of the new jetliner in Everett after winning concessions from workers and some $8.7 billion in tax breaks from the state last winter.

With that in the past, workers, politicians and executives celebrated the 777X with X-shaped cookies as VIPs ceremoniously took golden shovels to the ground at the construction site near Paine Field.

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were among the dignitaries in attendance. Also present were labor representatives from the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner was given a carbon-composite shovel. He said Boeing plans to invest $1 billion in the Everett plant.

The 1.3-million-square-foot building, just north of the present big factory, will be as big as 25 football fields, the company said. The site will include three of the world’s largest autoclaves.

Each speaker at Tuesday’s event chose an item to put a time capsule that Boeing plans to store in the new building until Oct. 21, 2044.

“It’s important to remember the work we do and the airplanes we build,” said Eric Lindblad, vice president of 777X wing integration.

He placed a piece of an autoclave in the capsule to represent the company taking production processes into the future.

The center will use advanced manufacturing methods and new technology — including automated systems and robotics. The 777X is expected to be more fuel efficient than the 777.

At the fabrication center, Boeing will make its largest-ever carbon-fiber wing, measuring 114 feet long and 23 feet wide. The tips will fold to allow the jetliner to fit into parking spaces at airport gates.

When Boeing started leveling offices in August to make way for the new building, it expected the process to take four months. Conner said construction started earlier than expected because permitting was completed seven weeks ahead of schedule.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson worked with state and local agencies to help streamline the permitting process. Stephanson said he was getting ready for construction even before Boeing had committed to building in Everett. That gave the aerospace giant a head start.

Now, Stephanson said, it is critical that the Legislature continue to support the company’s work in the state by passing a transportation package. Traffic has been a problem around the Boeing complex.

“This center will ensure aerospace is part of our economy for the next 40 to 50 years,” Stephanson said.

There are about 500 people working on the construction. That number is expected to increase to 1,200.

Boeing estimates that completion will take 3.5 million hours of work. The building will require 31,000 tons of steel, 480 miles of electrical cable, 80,000 feet of pipe and 170,000 tons of concrete.

The company expects to complete construction of the wing center, which it calls Building 40-58, by May 2016. The first parts are to roll off the production line in 2017.

The company has 300 orders for the 777X. The jetliner is expected carry up to 400 passengers and travel as far as 9,500 miles. It’s scheduled to enter service in 2020.

“It really will be a game-changer,” Cantwell said. “This is the future of aerospace, not just in Washington state but in the world.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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