Labour and state officials cite high stakes in second 787 line

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Elected officials and labour unions are weighing in on Boeing's decision to acquire Vought Aircraft Industries 787 operations in North Charleston, South Carolina.

While the groups applauded Boeing for taking greater control of its supply chain and expansion, they recognise that today's announcement is the first major step toward determining the site of a second 787 final assembly line.

Statements issued by officials of Washington state were quick to highlight Boeing's acquisition of the Vought facility does not constitute a final choice for the location of the second line, but appeared defensive in the face of a possible non-Puget Sound based final assembly operation.

"I recognize that this announcement underscores that Boeing wants to ensure that it manufactures the 787 Dreamliner as efficiently as possible, thus they have made the decision to buy Vought," says Washington Governor Chris Gregoire.

"In my conversation with [Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson], he assured that no decision has been made on a potential second line for the 787, and that today's announcement doesn't have anything to do with that," she adds.

Tom Wroblewski, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 in Seattle emphasises that "Boeing has noted this is not a statement of where the second 787 line is going to be located. When that issue is discussed, we will do everything in our power to ensure that Puget Sound is at the top of the list and highlight all the advantages that have made this region the largest aerospace center and Boeing the premiere aircraft manufacturer in the world - one that other cities are trying to emulate."

Both Gregoire and Wroblewski are keenly aware of the stakes of such a decision, and emphasize Puget Sound's biggest advantage against other regions of the country: The experienced workforce already building Boeing's commercial product offering, including the 787.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is alluding to the prospect of creating an attractive tax-payer funded incentive package to bring the second 787 line to North Charleston.

"Our administration is equally committed to doing whatever we can to help Boeing succeed and grow in our state," Sanford says.

In addition, he referenced the "business climate" of South Carolina, an illusion to the Right to Work status his state holds making it more difficult for union membership to be a condition of employment.

Boeing has emphasised in recent weeks that a key factor in any decision centres on a stable workforce and their ability to meet the aircraft delivery schedules laid out for customers.

"The real options [on how to select a location for a second line] are around 'how do you secure assurance of delivery?' And I think that's been a discussion topic around some of the disruption we've realized...at Boeing," Pat Shanahan, Boeing Vice President of Airplane Programs, recently told ATI.

The disruption Shanahan referenced was the 57-day machinist strike that halted jetliner production at Boeing's commercial manufacturing facilities during September and October of 2008.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group believes all the discussion of a second line is premature without a flying 787 fleet that remains grounded until a key portion of the side of body is reinforced.

"Talk of a second 787 line at the former Vought facility certainly sounds plausible, but given the state of the program, there are many other hurdles to jump before Boeing makes a decision on that," he says.

It is widely believed that Boeing will make a final decision on a second 787 assembly line by the close of 2009.