Prominent aerospace analyst will help state with Boeing bid

Richard Aboulafia has been hired to evaluate weaknesses as Washington seeks to host 797 assembly.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group.

OLYMPIA — One of the world’s leading aerospace industry experts is going to help the state try to convince the Boeing Co. to build its next new plane in Washington.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group, will analyze the state’s competitive strengths and weaknesses to design, manufacture and assemble the New Market Airplane on the Boeing drawing boards.

He’s been enlisted by the Choose Washington Council, a coalition of representatives of local and state government, and business and labor organizations. It is tasked with making the business case for Washington as the preferred site for the new passenger plane program. The analysis, for which his firm will earn $55,000, is expected in April.

“We are seeking an outside perspective so we know where we can improve as a region,” said Brian Bonlender, director of the state Department of Commerce and a leader of the council. “We can never be complacent about these things.”

Boeing is eyeing a so-called 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 after that start thinking about where to assemble it.

“We know our state provides the best value for building that airplane,” Gov. Jay Inslee told a room full of aerospace executives and civic leaders in Lynnwood in September. “I think it’s reasonable for Washington state residents to expect that Boeing would build its next aircraft here.”

Inslee announced formation of the Choose Washington Council in December. Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers is a member. Other members include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 and Aerospace Futures Alliance, which is an industry lobby group.

Bonlender has said the competitiveness study would detail how the state’s supply of skilled workers and available manufacturing locations provide Boeing with the least risky path to profitability for a new airplane. It also would be looking to identify programs, policies and initiatives to bolster the existing aerospace workforce and supply chain.

Somers has also launched a countywide task force of civic and business leaders to carry out a similar but separate pursuit.

Jon Holden, president of the Machinists Union, described Aboulafia as “the gold standard of the aerospace industry analysts” in a news release.

“We all agree that our aerospace manufacturing hub here in Washington State, along with our workforce, is second to none. We look forward to learning how we stack up against other sites as we work to land the next airplane program,” he said.

Aboulafia knows the state’s aerospace industry well. His work is expected to build on previous studies, including one produced in 2013 when the state succeeded in getting Boeing to design and build its newest plane, the 777X, and its carbon fiber wings, in Everett.

“My feeling is nothing materially has changed,” he said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Washington’s chances and would be looking for areas to improve to make any bid stronger.

“I’m looking forward to finding ways to be proactive and make it happen,” he said.

Kelley Maloney, chief executive of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, said she feels Washington is “positioned very well to win this aircraft” and thinks the study will show it.

The Machinists Union and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) are splitting the initial cost of the analysis.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

This story has been modified to include the fact the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) is paying part of the cost of the analysis.

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