Vought acquisition sparks fight for second 787 assembly line

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Boeing's confirmation of its intent to acquire the South Carolina operations of Vought Aircraft Industries has fired the starting gun for what is expected to be a fierce competition between several US states to house the expansion of 787 production.

Boeing explicitly says the deal, which will see the airframer take control of 75% of the Charleston campus that also includes the Global Aeronautica joint venture with Alenia, is not a signal of its intent to establish a second 787 final assembly in South Carolina.

 © Boeing
There is expected to be a fierce competition between several US states to house the expansion of 787 production

The 7 July announcement made no direct reference to a second line, with Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Scott Carson emphasising that "integrating [the Vought facility] and its talented employees into Boeing will strengthen the 787 programme by enabling us to accelerate productivity and efficiency improvements as we move toward production ramp-up".

He adds: "It will bolster our capability to develop and produce large composite structures that will contribute to the advancement of this critical technology."

Vice-president of marketing Randy Tinseth says on his blog that Boeing will address the production ramp-up and a second line only after it has resolved the latest programme delay issues, which concern structural reinforcement.

Washington state governor Chris Gregoire says that Carson has assured her that "no decision has been made [on a second 787 line] and none will be made at least until the fall".

Teal Group vice-president analysis Richard Aboulafia says: "Talk of a second 787 line at the former Vought facility certainly sounds plausible, but given the state of the programme, there are many other hurdles to jump before Boeing makes a decision on that."

However, within hours of the announcement, Washington state elected officials were suggesting ways to ensure Boeing builds a second 787 line in Puget Sound, including floating the idea of a long-term contract between the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers, who conducted a 57-day strike last autumn, and Boeing that would specify a no-strike cause.

Boeing has emphasised in recent weeks that a key factor in any decision centres on a stable workforce and its 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 [from strikes] we've realised...at Boeing," Pat Shanahan, Boeing vice-president of airplane programmes, told Flight International at June's Paris air show.

Tom Wroblewski, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 in Seattle, says the union is "open to talking about anything that will bring more jobs for our membership, and if Boeing has proposals that would ensure we'll be building airplanes in Puget Sound for generations to come, we'll certainly listen".

South Carolina governor Mark Sanford struck a congratulatory note, praising his state's "business climate" - an allusion to the Right to Work status that does not require union membership as a condition of employment.

Sanford, who is fully aware of the stakes of the competition, says "our administration is equally committed to doing whatever we can to help Boeing succeed and grow in our state" - an indirect reference to creating a taxpayer-funded incentive package to entice a second 787 line to Charleston.

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