An illustration of the Spike S-512 supersonic jet. The Boston company is considering locating its factory in Washington, among other states. (Spike Aerospace)

Inslee: State must fight for booming aerospace industry

LYNNWOOD — Aerospace in Washington has staggering numbers. The industry generated $94.7 billion in economic activity and supported nearly 253,000 jobs in 2015, according to a state-commissioned study released Thursday.

The Boeing Co. has enough orders to keep assembly lines here busy for more than nine years.

Startups are looking to put people and cargo into space for small fractions of today’s costs.

Suppliers have plenty of work ahead, but landing it will require taking risks and cutting costs, industry analyst Tom Captain said Thursday at the Aerospace Futures Alliance’s annual summit in Lynnwood.

The economics are driven by flyers, most of whom want to fly for as cheap as possible. Meanwhile, airlines have abandoned price wars and are no longer flying with many empty seats. That means steady profits for an industry that had operated in the red for the past several decades, he said.

For the aerospace industry, that means no more boom-and-bust — and cost cutting.

“You’re flying for a lot less — and someone has to pay for it,” Captain said.

Suppliers are being asked to cut costs and increase production rates.

“There’s money to be made, but it comes with risks,” he said.

Washington is not guaranteed to get future work, but must compete for it, he said.

Landing that work is one of the state’s priorities, Gov. Jay Inslee told the crowd.

His administration is focused on workforce education, expanding and maintaining roads and other infrastructure, reinvigorating the U.S. Export-Import Bank, fostering aerospace innovation, and strengthening the industry supply chain.

“Really, the sky’s the limit” for the state’s economic opportunities, Inslee said.

Those opportunities include Spike Aerospace. The Boston-based company is developing a quiet supersonic business jet, which it is considering building in Washington. It is also looking at California, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and the Carolinas, said Vik Kachoria, Spike’s chief executive officer.

The company is looking at several sites in Washington, including Spokane, Moses Lake and Paine Field. Washington has a lot to offer with its supply chain and skilled workforce. But it’s not a foregone conclusion, by any stretch, he said. “Florida has been very aggressive in what they want to offer us.”

Spike plans to have a demonstrator built by 2018 and a test aircraft by 2020. Given that schedule, the company has to pick a location by next year, Kachoria said in an interview with The Daily Herald.

He sees a large market for quiet supersonic planes. While the first buyers are likely to be private operators, he sees even more potential sales from air carriers. The airplane, the S-512, would be about the size of the premium class cabin on a transcontinental flight. The plane would have a quiet sonic boom, enabling it to fly over land, something the Concorde was not permitted to do.

“We have customers, but we’re also talking with airlines,” Kachoria said.

Boeing is in talks with airlines about what kind of airplane they want to fill the gap between its single-aisle 737 and its smallest twin-aisle, the 787, said Mike Sinnett, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president and head of product development.

Filling that space is not about replacing the 757 or the 767, but about making a plane that does what airlines need it to. Some of those roles look like a 757, others look like a 767, he said.

The hardest part is determining what airlines really need, and what Boeing can deliver, Sinnett said.

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

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