A “draft technical support” document, released earlier this month by the state Department of Ecology, shows Boeing wants the option to sharply increase production from 100 of the current model 777 jets built per year today up to as many as 125 of the new 777X jets per year from 2021 onward.
The report also provides the company’s projection that “employment at Boeing Everett is expected to increase by no more than 3,000 employees as a result of the 777X project.”
That’s almost 10 times the expected employment boost discussed in the past.
However, the production rate and employment figures in the ecology-department report represent the upper bounds of the growth Boeing sees as possible rather than what is expected, said Boeing spokesman Scott Lefeber.
“As part of our normal business planning, the 777X program needs to anticipate any and all future possible requirements. Part of this evaluation requires Boeing to take action years in advance to ensure environmental permits, tools and parts are complete and ready to support our potential requirements,” Lefeber said.
“No future rate decisions beyond the current 777 rate have been made,” he added.
Production of the 777X will begin in 2017 and will initially proceed at a low rate to ensure a smooth production start. The first 777X jet is scheduled to be delivered in 2020.
Between now and then, Boeing executives have said they could decrease production of the current 777 model, from 100 per year to around 80 jets per year.
Some analysts have predicted that a drop-off in demand for the current model could force Boeing to cut production even more steeply, to as low as 60 jets per year.
Yet in preparation for a subsequent ramp-up once the 777X comes online, Boeing has to get its environmental permitting lined up.
To comply with relevant air-quality regulations, as soon as Boeing picked Everett to build its new 777X wing fabrication plant in 2014, it asked the state to provide air-pollution permits for its manufacturing plans at the highest possible production rates.
The 777X’s new composite-plastic wing is infused with epoxy resin that can generate harmful vapors during manufacturing. Likewise, large-scale painting and sealing of aircraft parts requires careful air-quality controls.
The ecology department released the technical document this month after Boeing asked for some amendments to the 2014 filing.
The agency approved additional equipment requested by Boeing on condition that overall emissions not increase beyond the levels approved in the 2014 plan.
The draft technical document amending the air-quality filing was first reported Friday by The (Everett) Herald.
The original filing was reported in June by aviation-trade magazine Flight Global.
As summarized in various documents, Boeing outlines two phases to its 777X manufacturing project.
Phase one is the introduction of the 777X model on a new assembly line and a slow increase in rate, combined with a corresponding, parallel reduction in rate of the current 777.
Phase two, “tentatively scheduled to begin in 2021,” envisages “further changes to the Boeing Everett facility with the intent of increasing the overall 777X production capacity.”
The document states that the intent of this phase is “to increase overall 777X production capacity to up to about 10.4 airplanes per month.”
For such a ramp-up in production, Boeing said additional composite tape layup machines for fabricating wing panels, supplied by local firm Electroimpact of Mukilteo, might be installed in the new wing- fabrication building and additional spray booths for coating or painting aircraft parts could be needed.
About 38,000 people work at the Everett wide-body jet plant building the 747, 767, 777 and 787 jets.
A Washington state study commissioned in 2013 estimated that almost 20,000 people at Boeing work directly or indirectly on the 777 program, including at other sites besides Everett.
The same study estimated that more than 9,000 further jobs at suppliers and vendors to Boeing in the state are generated by the 777.
(Dominic Gates - The Seattle Times)