Everett site lands 777X composite wing fabrication, assembly

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Boeing has decided to fabricate and assemble the composite wings for the 777X at its widebody factory complex in Everett, Washington.

The decision comes six weeks after a narrowly positive vote by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which agreed to relinquish pension accruals after 2016 in return for keeping 777X fuselage and wing assembly in the Puget Sound area.

Boeing considered multiple sites around Seattle, but decided to fabricate the wing in a new building that will be constructed north of the aircraft assembly building.

The new facility will “allow us to build on the infrastructure and logistics system we have in Everett,” says Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive Ray Conner.

Boeing’s demands for concessions bitterly split the union membership over a two-month period. IAM’s 30,000 members in the Puget Sound area rejected Boeing’s first offer in a 13 November vote by a 67% margin, despite knowing that Boeing could follow through on a threat to build the 777X elsewhere than Puget Sound.

A second vote on 3 January accepted an improved Boeing offer with only a 51% margin, but at a cost of the workers’ pension accruals.

The union’s international leadership, led by IAM president Tom Buffenbarger, supported Boeing’s second offer. Local leaders, however, opposed even Boeing’s sweetened deal, and local president Tom Wroblewski resigned shortly after the results were announced.

Despite the tensions that brought the wing to Everett, Buffenbarger hailed the latest move as a victory for union members.

“This marks the first step in a bricks and mortar commitment by Boeing to build a facility that will be home to the jobs and technology of tomorrow – not in a foreign country or a distant state, but right here in the Pacific Northwest,” says Buffenbarger, who is based at IAM headquarters in Washington DC.

Though Boeing describes the 777X wing as a fourth-generation composite structure, it is still the company’s first attempt to build a composite wing for a commercial aircraft in-house.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries designed, fabricated and assembled the composite wing for the 787, which has evolved with three generations introduced between the 787-8 to the 787-9.

Selecting the fabrication and assembly site for the 777X wing was identified by Conner in November as the most important, near-term decision for the programme. Boeing plans to deliver the first 777-9X in six years to launch customer Emirates.

Meanwhile, Boeing will spend the next several months selecting suppliers for the 777X programme. So far, Boeing has selected General Electric to supply the engines and Heroux-Devtek to provide the landing gear.