Richard Aboulafia (left) and Kevin Michaels (center), both managing directors at AeroDynamic Advisory, and Ronald Epstein (right), senior equity analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, took the stage Wednesday at the 21st annual Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference at the Lynnwood Convention Center. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)

Richard Aboulafia (left) and Kevin Michaels (center), both managing directors at AeroDynamic Advisory, and Ronald Epstein (right), senior equity analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, took the stage Wednesday at the 21st annual Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference at the Lynnwood Convention Center. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)

Hundreds gather for annual aerospace conference — without Boeing

The company was nonetheless the talk of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance meeting this week.

LYNNWOOD —The Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance held an in-person conference this year at the Lynnwood Convention Center for the first time since February 2020.

More than 400 aerospace suppliers and aviation industry representatives attended the event, which wrapped up on Thursday.

But one important and longstanding corporate member of the trade group, the Boeing Co., was absent.

The nonprofit group, a promoter of the region’s aerospace sector, came under scrutiny after allegations of a toxic workplace surfaced.

The Seattle Times reported on a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court by former PNAA executive Fiona McKay, who related a culture of sexism among the group’s leadership, according to The Times report.

The lawsuit was settled in June.

In the meantime, Boeing withdrew its membership and support from the trade group without saying why it made the decision.

In a company statement, Boeing said, “We are supporting a number of other aerospace organizations in the Pacific Northwest, and we remain fully committed to this region’s aerospace community.”

The Chicago-based airplane maker was one of many prominent U.S. companies that publicly revised their equity and diversity policies after the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans shook the nation.

In August 2020, Boeing CEO David Calhoun announced the company’s commitment to creating a culture of inclusion and equity.

“We are committed to building diverse teams and holding ourselves accountable to equitable processes that promote trust and transparency,” Calhoun said, adding, “Any behavior that runs counter to this will not be tolerated.”

In the months following, Boeing reportedly fired 65 workers and disciplined another 53 for racist comments or behavior.

Nikki Malcom, CEO and executive director of the Pacific Northwest Aviation Alliance, said the trade group continues “to work to maintain a strong relationship with Boeing. But the strength and diversity of our entire Pacific Northwest Aerospace Cluster and the PNAA were on full display this week, both in people and industries.”

“The PNAA has a proven track record of commitment to diversity. I wouldn’t have devoted 20-plus years to the industry, served on the board, and accepted the role of CEO and executive director if I hadn’t seen the organization live that commitment daily,” Malcolm said in an email to The Daily Herald.

The alliance said it could not comment on the litigation.

Despite Boeing’s absence at this week’s aerospace conference, the company was a frequent topic of discussion.

The conference is for local and regional manufacturers that supply the global aerospace industry with everything from airplane components to specialized welding services.

Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia again lamented Boeing’s reticence to launch of a new passenger airplane, informally known as the 797.

In 2018, Aboulafia authored a Teal Group report urging the company to build its next airplane in Washington. The Boeing 737 Max crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, which crushed air travel, intervened.

Aboulafia, who is now managing director at AeroDynamic Advisory, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based consulting firm, reminded listeners that it has been 18 years since Boeing launched a new, “clean sheet” airplane model.

The airline industry is hungry for a new passenger jet that can carry some 200 people, Aboulafia said, and Boeing’s foot-dragging is only enriching European rival Airbus’ order book for the A320neo, a single-aisle plane that can carry up to 180 passengers.

“This is really getting to the point whether they either do something this year — or at least talk about it,” Aboulafia said. “Something has to happen this year.”

The longer Boeing waits, the more headwind it faces, including having to wrestle with a potential shortage of talent — the engineers and technicians needed to design a new plane, Aboulafia said.

The urban mobility market, which includes electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft known as eVTOL, and private space companies have attracted enormous sums of money from private investors and government grants, he said.

As a result, those firms have been able to offer engineers hefty salaries and the opportunity to work on cutting-edge aviation projects.

Boeing could face stiff competition from the urban mobility and private space sectors, which are hiring like crazy, Aboulafia said.

The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated market trends that were already in place — from the growth of e-commerce to falling demand for twin-aisle airplanes. Now the trend is for airlines to employ smaller aircraft on international runs, which doesn’t bode well for the largest of Boeing’s wide-body models, the 777 series, which is built in Everett.

Aboulafia said he’s pleased that Boeing announced last week that it will produce a freighter version of the 777X, called the 777-8F.

The move will boost production of the 777 series from two to four planes a month.

But in spite of the freighter’s introduction, Aboulafia is concerned about the limited order book of the 777X.

On the other hand, Aboulafia expects Boeing’s military order book to fill up due to strained relations between China and the West and the subsequent bump in defense spending.

One of the newest presenters at the aerospace conference is Eviation Aircraft, which has designed and built a fully electric, zero-emission commuter aircraft that it hopes test fly this year.

Eviation relocated to Snohomish County last year and occupies three hangars at Arlington Municipal Airport.

Since Dec. 17, the company has been putting the nine-seat airplane, known as Alice, through a rigorous series of ground taxi tests.

The plane is projected to have a top cruising speed of 287 mph and a target range of 500 mph. Two electric motors, designed and built by a sister company, Everett’s magniX, connect to the plane’s onboard lithium-ion batteries and power the aircraft.

Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay told PNAA participants that the all-electric plane has reached taxi speeds of 94 mph.

“Take-off speed is 100 knots (115 mph), so you do the math,” Bar-Yohay said.

Bar-Yohay said he expects the airplane to make a maiden flight in a “matter of weeks.”

“We never say a date because it might rain.”

With success, Eviation plans to produce 50 of the planes per year, and up to 150 per year by the end of 2023.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097;; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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