So long, Long Beach

Out in Southern California, where a historical site is anything older than the latest drive-through, they were getting nostalgic the other day. But this passage is noteworthy: production of commercial airliners in Long Beach, birthplace of the DC-3, has ended with the delivery of the last Boeing 717s from the old Douglas Aircraft Co. factory to Midwest Airlines and to AirTran. Douglas, which begat McDonnell Douglas, which begat the MD-95 a decade ago, had become Boeing territory in 1997. The then-recently launched little twin was the last model assembled in the same place that put together the entire DC jetliner series. Douglas opened the plant in 1941, delivering more than 10,000 aircraft for the war effort and another 5,000 for civil use, from the DC-8 on through the -10 series. Boeing did leave in place the big red fluorescent sign on the factory roof urging folks to FLY DC JETS.

The 717, a thoroughly modern version of the DC-9 that helped usher in the era of widespread domestic jet airline service in 1965, never enjoyed the success of its forbears, with only 156 examples in service.  But, said Alan Mulally, the head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, “The 717 has forever redefined how we build airplanes”. Mulally said in a statement. “Our production system is an industry benchmark because of the lean manufacturing and employee involvement practices we pioneered on the 717 in Long Beach”, he said. Boeing now uses up in Renton, Wash., on the 737 family. Boeing is transforming its 777 production line in Everett to use a moving line. Conspiracy theories abound to explain how the 717 fell short of estimates that the market for 100-seaters like the 717 would reach 2,000 aircraft. It’s worth noting that it was, in the economic and labour sense, a little big airplane competing with bigger and bigger little airplanes, from the 50-seat regional jets that were transforming the industry just as the 717 came to market, to the larger and larger little airplanes, the regional jets that are economically big little airplanes. Still, for a city and a region associated with aviation since 1912, when Glenn Martin started an ‘aeroplane and hydro-aeroplane’ factory south of Los Angeles, it is a passage.

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