|Boeing picks Everett for building wing of 777X |
Boeing has decided to build the new 777X wing facility next to the widebody jet final-assembly plant in Everett, assuring more than a decade of work on advanced composite materials for thousands of Snohomish County workers. An announcement is expected as early as Tuesday.
By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing has decided to locate the new facility where it will build the giant wing of the 777X jet next to its final-assembly plant in Everett, according to people with knowledge of the plans.
The decision, which Boeing management is expected to announce as early as Tuesday, secures for Snohomish County an investment of up to $4 billion and more than a decade of work for thousands of employees who will fabricate the advanced composite-plastic wing.
Boeing will knock down some existing office buildings on its Everett property — where today it assembles the current 777 as well as the 747, 767 and 787 jets — and will also build on property used for employee parking, said the sources.
Boeing on Sunday said only that “the location will be announced at the appropriate time.”
During the nationwide 777X site-selection competition late last year, Boeing projected that the high-tech wing facility alone will provide 2,760 jobs at peak employment in 2024.
When Boeing sought bids from other states for the 777X, it projected the 70-foot-high wing building would occupy 1.1 million square feet and require an investment of up to $1 billion, with up to $3 billion more spent on machinery and equipment, according to a site-selection document viewed by The Seattle Times.
The 777X is to enter service with airlines in 2020, which means it would need to fly for the first time a year earlier. The document said construction of the wing plant needs to start no later than next November, with production of parts to begin in July 2016.
As soon as the Machinists union voted Jan. 3 to accept the concessions demanded by Boeing, the company committed both to assemble the 777X and to build its plastic composite wing in Washington state.
The precise location of the wing plant had been uncertain until now.
Government officials in Pierce County had hoped the Boeing Frederickson facility, which makes the composite tail fins of both the 777 and the 787 Dreamliner, might be chosen.
However, a location close to the Everett final-assembly line was heavily favored because of the immense size of the 777X wing. At 114 feet long and 23 feet wide, it will be the largest Boeing has ever built.
Everett “is the only logical place to do it,” said aviation-industry analyst Scott Hamilton. “How would you transport that wing from Pierce County?”
Still, Boeing’s decision will come as a relief to the Everett workforce.
It means the Everett mechanics who build the traditional aluminum wing of the current 777 jet will have the chance to transition to building the new wing, made from carbon-fiber-reinforced composite plastic.
To make such a wing, Boeing will first use fast-moving, computer-controlled robotic machines to build up the parts of the wing — the long, thin skin panels and the thick I-beam-like spars — by applying strips of epoxy-resin-infused, carbon-fiber tape in layers.
These parts will be baked to hardness in a high-pressure oven called an autoclave. Because of the length of the wing, Everett will need one of the largest autoclaves in the world.
These pieces will be assembled by mechanics similarly to the way an aluminum wing is put together, then rolled out to the nearby final-assembly bay.
Capturing this new technology, which since the advent of the 787 is clearly the future of airplane manufacturing, is the most important aspect of this win for Snohomish County.
The wings of the 787 are built in Japan. But Boeing’s leadership said early in the 777X discussions that it wanted to bring this core piece of the airplane’s technology back in-house.
By the end of the decade, Boeing will likely launch another all-new airplane — industry analysts believe a replacement for the 757 is likely the next move — that will almost certainly be built largely from composite materials.
By then, Boeing’s huge 777X investment in Everett will have created a center of expertise in composites manufacturing that doesn’t exist there today, giving the site a stronger argument it should build that next jet.
Near term, the Everett site must undergo major reconstruction work. In addition to the $8.7 billion in extended tax breaks beyond 2024 that the Legislature promised to win the 777X program, state and county officials have vowed to expedite permitting for 777X-related construction.
People with knowledge of the plans said Boeing will knock down some old engineering office buildings to make way for the wing plant.
For some time, the company has been seeking as much as 100,000 square feet of interim office space nearby to house engineers and administrative staff displaced by the construction work.
And while the wing plant is the main addition, Boeing will also be planning the reconfiguration of its main assembly building to make room for a 777X final-assembly line.
That will likely be in the bay being used for a temporary 787 production line.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or email@example.com