According to Boeing Governmental Relations manager Rich White, the Boeing aircraft company is hotter than ever as it moves to meet worldwide demand for its aircraft. White addressed 46 attendees at Thursday’s Edmonds Chamber’s monthly luncheon Edmonds Yacht Club with an upbeat talk and PowerPoint tracing the history of the company, current activities and future outlook.
Starting off with a brief overview of company history, White traced how Bill Boeing’s interest in aircraft and flying, rooted in the early days of aviation, soon became his driving passion. He explained how Boeing pioneered in bringing the industry from the days of “one-off” aircraft manufacture to standardization of design, a practice which continues today.
And it’s a formula that works.
“Boeing remains the largest single exporter in the United States,” he said. “Locally, 60 percent of all Washington State exports are Boeing airplanes. Today we are delivering 47 planes each month, will up this to 52 later this year, and are prepared to deliver 57 per month by second quarter 2019. In round numbers, that’s two airplanes per day, not just produced, but delivered to the buyer.”
Company projections show that over the next 20 years, airlines worldwide will need more than 40,000 new aircraft, many in the rapidly growing Asian market. The vast majority of these will be single-aisle planes like the 737.
“China is our largest market right now for 737-style aircraft,” he added. “For us, meeting this demand means maintaining and enhancing our workforce, which translates to local employment growth.”
Late last year the company began delivering the new 737 MAX aircraft, which offers extended range, higher passenger capacity, and a 14 percent efficiency increase over the current 737.
“But we’re not stopping here,” he continued. “We’re also looking at longer-range aircraft to take over the role of the 747. The next generation of the twin-aisle 777, the new 777X, will be the largest and most efficient twin-engine jet in the world. We’re achieving through innovative design, and the biggest difference is the carbon fiber wing,” he explained. “The wings of this aircraft will be larger than the current model, and the last 12 feet will fold. This will make this 12% more efficient than the existing metal-wing 777’s, and we’re manufacturing them right on site in Everett.
“Of course to build a big airplane we need a big building,” he continued. “So the company expanded its Everett facility with a new 460-foot clear span building incorporating sophisticated climate controls and other measures to ensure precision in the manufacture of the carbon fiber components. This is the largest building by volume in the world. It encloses 5 million cubic feet of space, and the doors alone are as big as a football field. Disneyland could fit inside.”
But there are challenges and uncertainties too, and White next touched on what he termed “headwinds in the market,” and the potentially negative effects of factors including variations in economic growth, exchange rate volatility, geopolitical uncertainly (for example, Brexit) and the threat of terrorism.
Taking Thursday’s news head-on, he addressed the announcements from the White House earlier in the day of trade sanctions and tariffs, specifically targeting China, one of Boeing’s biggest customers.
“This morning’s announcement of new tariffs proposed by the current administration introduces some new uncertainty not only in the stock market but also about what China and other entities across the world may do in retaliation,” he said. “We don’t know what that will look like at this time. And the best strategy in uncertain times is to sit and wait until you see a clearer picture of what may happen.”
White then moved on to highlight Boeing’s role as a good corporate citizen through its support of local charities and ensuring that women and minority-owned businesses get a fair share of contracted and other work, an amount that totaled $1.5 billion in 2016.
In conclusion, White summed up the reasons that Boeing has become the largest aerospace company in the world.
“It’s two things really,” he said. “One is the men and women who work here. They bring passion every single day. Second is the community we operate in, and the strong partnerships we have within it.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel