Kevin Michaels, left, and Richard Aboulafia, managing directors at AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consulting firm, attend the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference Wednesday at the Lynnwood Convention Center. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)

Kevin Michaels, left, and Richard Aboulafia, managing directors at AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consulting firm, attend the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference Wednesday at the Lynnwood Convention Center. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)

Shortage of skilled airplane workers slows aerospace recovery

Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference concluded in Lynnwood with Boeing absent again.

LYNNWOOD — The tight labor market could get even tighter for scores of Boeing suppliers hoping to add new workers.

In the quest to hire, they face greater competition from the aerospace giant that butters their bread, The Boeing Co.

In January, Boeing said it expects to hire 10,000 production workers this year even as it plans to cut 2,000 white-collar jobs.

Finding skilled labor has been an ongoing challenge for many aerospace manufacturers as they ramp up production to meet demand. It was also one of the main topics at the annual Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference, held last week at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

The air travel and aerospace industry is recovering nicely from the COVID-19 pandemic but labor shortages, inflation and the uptick in interest rates could add drag to the recovery, industry analysts say.

Airlines are buying airplanes again, though demand for widebody jets such as the Boeing 787 and 777 series continues to lag.

Airplane manufacturers are stepping up production to fill a huge backlog. Boeing has 4,000 of its 737 jets on backlog, while rival Airbus’ order book includes 6,000 of its A320neo series airplanes on backlog.

Boeing’s plans to increase 737 Max output, not only in Renton but with the addition of a fourth 737 assembly line at the company’s Everett plant, bodes well for the company’s network of suppliers. It means more work for many smaller aerospace firms, including some 200 Snohomish County companies.

To meet the demand, Art Brass Aerospace Finishing, a Boeing supplier that finishes metal aerospace parts, is hiring, said Chris Nussbaum, the firm’s sales and marketing executive.

The company recently set up a third shop in Mukilteo, said Nussbaum, who attended the PNAA conference in Lynwood.

Hundreds of aerospace manufacturers, aviation representatives and tech firms heard from companies such as Arlington’s Eviation Aircraft and Airbus, as well as industry analysts and trade groups.

Boeing declined to attend for a second straight year. The aerospace giant cut ties with the nonprofit trade group last year without saying why. However, the move is widely believed to have been in response to a lawsuit filed by former PNAA executive Fiona McKay. The group, a promoter of the region’s aerospace sector, came under scrutiny after allegations of a toxic workplace surfaced.

In 2020, Boeing publicly committed to creating a culture of inclusion and equity. The PNAA has said it has a proven track record of commitment to diversity.

Filling open positions at Art Brass Aerospace, which also has shops in Seattle and Auburn, has been a struggle, Nussbaum said.

With Boeing hiring, it’s become a greater challenge for smaller aerospace companies, such as Art Brass, to attract new workers.

For one thing, the Boeing name carries enormous weight with recent graduates of aerospace or manufacturing programs. Other job-seekers are members of multi-generational Boeing families — mom, dad, grandpa worked there — and want to continue the tradition, Nussbaum said.

The dynamic in which Boeing and its suppliers compete for the same pool of workers isn’t new, Nussbaum said.

Instead it’s part of the longstanding cycle of rising and falling demand that defines the aerospace industry.

“Boeing is great, but it makes it tough to hire,” he said.

The hiring dilemma didn’t go unheard at this week’s aerospace conference.

A panel discussion by AJAC: Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeships offered tips on hiring and retaining workers.

The nonprofit group helped tailor Everett-based Aviation Technical Service’s apprenticeship program, in its fifth year.

Studies show that if you can keep them on the job for four years, they’ll stay for six or 10 years.

An apprenticeship can be part of that, Demetria “Lynn” Strickland, AJAC’s executive director, told the gathering.

So, think about establishing a registered apprenticeship with AJAC, Strickland said.

Having trouble with younger workers who don’t always show up to work on time?

“It takes some time for those skills to be built in,” Strickland said. Apprenticeships can help. They not only teach technical skills, but interpersonal skills.

The latest clutch of workers care about the impact of their work and the larger contribution it makes, said Bri Durham, AJAC’s on-the-job trainer.

“The kids want to know what your company does and how cool it is. Explain the why and the big picture — even if they get on your nerves,” Durham said.

A company culture that answers those questions is a big selling point, she said.

Most importantly, it’s critical for smaller companies to offer job-seekers and employees specific information on how to climb the ladder, Durham said.

“Be specific about the steps they need to complete to get to the next level,” Durham said.

No new airplane

The conference featured a star-studded lineup of aviation analysts, including Kevin Michaels and Richard Aboulafia, managing directors at AeroDynamic Advisory, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, consulting firm, as well as Ron Epstein, senior aerospace equity analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Again, this year their focus was Boeing, and more specifically, its decision to stall development of a new commercial passenger airplane until the next decade.

All three analysts puzzled over Boeing CEO David Calhoun’s recent announcement that the company would not introduce a new airplane model until mid-2030. Calhoun said a propulsion system that’s 20% to 30% more efficient than current models hasn’t yet been developed. Until then, no new plane.

It’s an about-face for Boeing.

In 2017, the planemaker floated the concept of a “middle-market airplane” that would fit somewhere between the largest 737 and the smallest 787. At that time, it was widely believed Boeing would move forward with a new jet. However, the Boeing 737 Max crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, which crushed air travel, intervened.

Industry analysts say Calhoun’s decision is unwise and could erode the company’s market share.

In a panel discussion Wednesday, Aboulafia didn’t mince words when he urged Boeing’s top executives to consider a remedial course in corporate strategy.

“There must be a book at the Everett Public Library titled “’Management for Dummies’ they can check out, ” Aboulafia said.

“They need to flex their engineering muscle,” he said.

The market is ripe for a narrow-body airplane with 220 to 240 seats and a 5,700-mile range, basically a single-aisle 787, panelists said.

The airlines want a new airplane,” Epstein said, citing a recent airline survey.

“If you’re not developing new airplanes, you’re not going to be in the airplane business,” Epstein said.

“It’s a risk for Boeing to continue to wait,” said Ken Herbert, managing director of RBC Capital Markets.

Wait and Boeing risks ceding even greater market share to rival Airbus, which continues to rack up orders for the A320neo family of single-aisle aircraft, he said.

Although Boeing borrowed heavily during the pandemic, taking on substantial debt, money isn’t an issue, Herbert said.

Should the company decide to build a new airplane, “they will find the cash financing,” he said.

Still, any hope that Boeing might reverse engines and engineer a new plane has mostly vanished. “As long as the current leadership is in place, they won’t do anything new,” Aboulafia concluded.

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

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Traffic camera shows Everett and Marysville firefighters on the scene of a crane accident along northbound I-5 near milepost 198 Tuesday evening. (Provided photo)
Two workers fall from I-5 bridge Tuesday evening

The workers were in a “cherry picker” type bucket when it tipped over. One man fell 60 feet into the water and was taken to the hospital.

Lynnwood
Everett motorcyclist dies on Highway 99

Alexis Hernandez Cerritos was riding south on Highway 99 when a car driving north turned in front of him.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett’s rival minimum wage proposals: Second group submits signatures

Supporters from Raise the Wage Responsibly said their proposal strikes a balance between employees and employers.

Components of downtown Marysville’s new stormwater treatment facility can be seen from the walkway on Thursday, July 11, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. While much of the treatment and filtering happens out of sight, visitors of the area will see troughs, left, spilling water out onto the surrounding landscape, which soaks up the filtered water before it makes its way into a nearby lagoon. Overflow grates, right, help alleviate flooding during heavy rains. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
At new Marysville water treatment facility, plants filter out pollutants

City officials expect the $14 million project to clean 110 million gallons of water every year, reducing harm to wildlife.

Everett
Everett man sentenced to jail for threatening to bomb car dealership

The sentencing of Michael Harsh comes over two years after he threatened to bomb an Evergreen girls basketball game.

Everett
Everett courthouse garage briefly closed for ‘suspicious package’ report

A man drove his car into the Snohomish County Courthouse garage and reported he believed the package was in his car.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.