Boeing to build carbon-fiber 777X wings in Everett

EVERETT — The Boeing Co.’s decision to build the carbon-fiber-composite wings for the new 777X airplane at a new building at its Paine Field facility means thousands of jobs and a foothold in industry-leading technology for Snohomish County.

But Boeing has to answer some big questions about how to allocate space at the site while continuing a major refresh of its jetliner catalog. The company might find that even the biggest building in the world isn’t big enough for everything it needs to do in the next five to 10 years.

It is difficult to know exactly what those challenges will look like because they depend on what happens with all of the airplanes currently built in Everett — the 747, 767, KC-46A, 777 and 787.

Boeing itself isn’t sure how it will all work out, but it will be creative with space, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said during a press conference Tuesday at the company’s airplane delivery center at Paine Field.

“We’re going to start tearing down buildings” later this year to make room for a new 1-million-square-foot wing fabrication facility, he said.

The new building, which the Chicago-based company is calling a composite wing center, will replace a cluster of drab, 1960s-era brick office buildings on the north side of the big factory where it assembles wide-body jets.

More than 2,000 workers will make carbon-fiber components for the 777X wings in the center.

The wings will be assembled somewhere else on site, but Boeing hasn’t figured out exactly where yet, Conner said.

Boeing plans to make room for the 777X assembly line in the factory by shutting down the 787 surge line, Conner said.

The surge line was set up last year and is slated to end in 2015 as the production rate increases at Boeing’s second 787 final assembly facility in North Charleston, S.C.

But the company’s consistently optimisitc expectation about Charleston’s ability to increase output has been countered by aerospace analysts’ skepticism.

“I don’t know anybody who believes” the Everett surge line will end in 2015, said Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst with the Issaquah-based Leeham Co.

North Charleston’s target is seven planes a month, but it is currently assembling one to two a month, he said. “The surge line will be here easily three or four more years.”

That would start bumping against company’s goal to start 777X production in January 2018, as laid out in a request for proposals sent last year by Boeing to states bidding for the 777X work.

The company also faces many questions about how to transition from the existing 777 to the 777X, as well as questions about the future of the 747.

Boeing expects the 777X line will employ 3,250 workers in 2018, with a peak of 8,500 in 2024 and a sustained workforce of 7,250 by 2026, according to the bid documents.

That means that even at its peak, the new jetliner will employ fewer workers than the classic 777, which had an estimated workforce of about 12,100 a couple years ago, according to a recent study commissioned by Washington Aerospace Partnership.

Boeing will invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” to build the 777X in Everett, Conner said.

On hand for the announcement were political and union leaders, including Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson; U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) aerospace coordinator Mark Johnson.

The announcment didn’t come as a surprise — the only other viable option was Frederickson in Pierce County, where Boeing has a plant that does composite work for the existing 777 and for the 787. But as The Herald reported in January, transporting the massive wings from Frederickson would have been a significant challenge.

Building the wings in Washington means the state will be on the cutting edge of composite-materials manufacturing, which advocates say will become standard for automakers and other industries as well.

“These are going to be built in Everett, but this is a statewide win,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Composite-material manufacturing means airplanes can be lighter and stronger than they would be using traditional materials such as aluminum, steel and titanium. They also are expected to have lower maintenance costs.

But the technology is still maturing, and it’s only in the past decade that the aerospace industry has started using carbon fiber in large parts of airplanes, as in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380.

While the 777X will have composite wings, the body will use traditional metals.

Boeing plans to deliver the first 777Xs to customers by 2020. The jetliner will be a redesigned version of the popular and profitable 777. Since its formal unveiling in November at the Dubai Airshow, Boeing has anounced nearly 300 orders and commitments for the 777X, which promises high fuel efficiency, long range and big capacity.

The wings will be the largest ever built by Boeing — so long that the tips will fold up so the plane can park at existing airport gates — and will require up 2,760 workers to make, according to specifications the company sent late last year to states bidding for the work.

Boeing didn’t finish the bid process. When members of the Machinists union narrowly approved a new long-term contract in a Jan. 3 vote, Boeing said it would abide a promise to build the airplane in Everett and the wings in metro Puget Sound. Machinists had overwhelmingly rejected a similar contract proposal in November.

A few days before that vote, the Legislature and the governor approved extending tax breaks for Boeing worth approximately $8.7 billion over 16 years.

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

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Think Tank Cowork in Everett, Washington on July 19, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
The first co-working space opens in downtown Everett

Think Tank Cowork’s owner hopes the facility will inspire other business owners to call Everett home.

New LGI Homes on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Sultan, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The real estate market took an abrupt turn this spring

Mortgage rates are up, but home inspections, seller concessions are back on the table for buyers.

The Lab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and inventors located at 404 N. Olympic Ave. (Photo credit: TheLab@Arlington)
New Arlington business incubator opens

TheLab@Arlington is a new one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, inventors and business owners.

Patrons view the 787 exhibition Thursday morning at the Boeing Future of Flight Musuem at Paine Field on October 8, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Paine Field was county’s No. 1 tourist attraction. Not now

Snohomish County officials hope festivals and outdoor activities will fill Paine Field tourist gap.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood Chamber of Commerce ‘can’t keep the doors open’

The chamber is set to shut down at the end of the month due to financial challenges.

Maria Rios, a ferry worker of 13 years, helps Frank and Fran Butler, both of Washington, D.C., check out as the couple purchases food on Thursday, July 21, 2022, aboard the MV Suquamish ferry between Mukilteo and Clinton, Washington. Rios said food service returned to the Suquamish about three weeks prior. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Drink up! Happy hour on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry is back

More galleys are reopening as pandemic restrictions scale back. Get out of your car for concessions just like at the ballpark.

OnTrac Logistics has leased a building now under construction at Bay Wood Business Park on Everett's waterfront. The shipping company will open a facility there later this year that will employ 400 people. (Artist Rendering/Broderick Group.)
New Everett shipping facility to generate 400 jobs

OnTrac Logistics has leased a new building on the 12½-acre Baywood Business Park on Everett’s waterfront.

The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field in Everett. (Janice Podsada / The Herald) 20220419
Flying Heritage Museum to reopen with new owner at Paine Field

Walmart heir Steuart Walton bought the historic aircraft and artifacts. The museum is set to reopen within the year.

Renee's Contemporary Clothing store at 2820 Colby Ave. on July 11, 2022. The iconic downtown Everett store is closing in August after 29 years in business. (Janice Podsada/The Herald)
Renee’s, another iconic downtown Everett store, is closing

After 29 years in business, the longstanding clothing shop will shutter. In-person sales slowed when stores reopened.

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Boeing is reporting a money-losing quarter as both its civilian-airplane division and the defense business are struggling. Boeing said Wednesday, April 27, 2022,  that it lost $1.24 billion in the first quarter and took large write-downs for several programs.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Boeing sees best month for aircraft deliveries since 2019

The company delivered 51 passenger and cargo planes in June, its best month for deliveries in recent years.

The Alderwood Towne Center, a 105,000 square-foot strip mall, is located at 3105-3225 Alderwood Mall Blvd. The mall, which has been sold, is home to 20 businesses, including anchor tenants Marshalls and Michaels. Photo Credit: CBRE Group.
Lynnwood strip mall near Link Light Rail Station sold

Alderwood Towne Center, home to 20 businesses, could eventually be redeveloped to take advantage of light rail.

James Berntson shows how his farm uses a trellis system to control tomato plants on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Radicle Roots Farm in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Backyard business: Snohomish farm thrives on less than one acre.

James Berntson grew Radicle Roots Farm using smart crop planning and organic practices.