EVERETT — Paine Field’s Runway 11/29 is a lonely place these days.
In recent years, Boeing parked orphaned 787s here. The initial buyers had balked at taking the overweight and problem-plagued airplanes, dubbed the “Terrible Teens” based on their production numbers. Legions of Boeing workers burned long hours working through the plane’s early teething problems. At one point, Boeing had dozens of 787s parked around Paine Field.
The few remaining Terrible Teens are being reworked ahead of delivery. Runway 11/29 is all but empty with only a pair of KC-46 aerial refueling tankers parked there this week.
While 787 production is running smoothly, Boeing is expanding its footprint at Paine Field. It is leasing more land from the airport, which Snohomish County owns and operates. It extended its lease for 11/29 and leased a taxiway, Kilo 6, that it used to park Dreamliners at the height of that program’s production delays.
The company has a month-to-month lease on space near the airport’s control tower, where it often parks 747s. Last year, Boeing also built two new hangars at Paine Field to support pre-delivery work.
Until last year, Boeing had planned to vacate 11/29 and help pay for rebuilding the runway, which was slated to reopen this coming fall.
So, is the extra tarmac space a hedge against future production problems? Better to have extra land and not need it, than need it and not have it.
The company is building up an inventory of the tankers, which it plans to start delivering in the second half of 2017. However, Boeing’s leases extend past 2020.
Or is the land to park 777X test aircraft? Boeing plans to build six starting in 2018.
The Boeing Co. declined to comment in detail on the leases.
“We are committed to real estate solutions that benefit both the company and the surrounding community and that support the continued Boeing investment in Everett for future airplane production,” Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said.
Boeing will be juggling major changes in the next five years at its Everett plant. The 747 and 777 classic are winding down, while the 777X and the KC-46, an aerial refueling tanker based on the 767, are ramping up.
“It’s quite a bit more in flux than, say, the early 2000s,” said Richard Aboulafia, an industry analyst and vice president at the Teal Group in Washington, D.C.
Boeing also plans to take 737 production to record highs in the coming years — 57 per month by 2019 and possibly as high as 63 after that. The airplanes are assembled at its Renton plant with flight line work done at Renton Municipal Airport and Boeing Field International, where the company’s 737 delivery center is located. However, if things get too crowded down south, Boeing could do some flight line work at Paine Field. The company occasionally flies 737s north for after-factory work.
“We have historically used Renton, Boeing and Paine fields for a mix of model work, and those, along with other commonly used airfields, provide enough capacity to allow for current and future statement of work,” Bergman said.
The land also could be used for storing unsold 747s. Boeing has struggled to get orders for the jumbo jet’s current version, the 747-8, and is slowing production to six airplanes a year. The Pentagon wants at least two 747-8s for use as Air Force One, the call sign used when the president is on board.
“There will be a lot of modification work to be done” after the mammoth airplanes roll out the Everett plant, said Scott Hamilton, owner of Leeham Co., an aerospace industry consulting firm based on Bainbridge Island.
The Air Force is not expected to take delivery of the airplanes before 2018. So, the planes could be parked at Paine Field after coming out of the factory.