Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Boeing to close Georgia defense plant slated to get some 747 work

Hit by slumping sales of the 747, Boeing has dropped a plan to save its defense plant in Macon, Ga., by making fuselage panels for the jumbo jet there.

Boeing said Monday the Macon plant will close in December. The company’s 747 production is now at one jet every two months,

About 120 people work at the plant, which opened in 1988 and has made parts for C-17 military transport planes and Chinook helicopters.

Boeing praised the “unmatched professionalism” of the workforce at the plant and said it will try to assist employees finding jobs at other Boeing sites.

Just a year ago, Triumph Group, which currently builds the 747 fuselage panels in Hawthorne, Calif., decided to exit the program as slowing of production to one jet per month made the venture unprofitable.

Boeing decided to take the work in-house and, starting in 2018, have the Macon workers make the panels as their military work came to an end.

But demand for the 747 has slumped further, forcing Boeing to cut production again from last month and to kill the plan to invest in Macon.

Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes unit “has determined that it does not have a business case at this time for taking on the Macon site,” the company said in a statement. “Following the completion of defense work in December, site operations will conclude with no planned restart.”

Boeing cited “the continuing soft cargo market and the accompanying reduced demand for very large cargo freighters” as the reason for abandoning its plan.

In a message to Everett employees working on the jumbo jet, Bruce Dickinson, 747 program vice president, acknowledged the move looks ominous for the 747’s future, but tried to offer reassurance.

He wrote that Triumph will continue to supply the fuselage panels into 2019, giving Boeing more time to work out where it will place the work afterward.

“Many may ask if this is a sign the 747 program is ending in the near-term. No, it is not,” Dickinson told employees. “We simply do not have to make a work placement decision at this time.

“In addition, there are numerous active sales campaigns with key customers, and our Sales team is working aggressively to complete those sales,” Dickinson said.

Because some orders listed in the 747 backlog are doubtful, without further sales, Boeing can plausibly count on delivering just 26 more of the airplanes.

Depending on the scheduled delivery dates, that could stretch out the program to the end of the decade.

(Dominic Gates - The Seattle Times)

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