Boeing has confirmed that it will open a new Next Generation 737 production line at the former Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach. The move comes as part of a major re-organisation within the group which could see up to 28,000 job losses.

Despite the opening of the 737 line, which will initially be dedicated to variants such as the BBJ business jet, only about 600 new jobs will be created at Long Beach, where more than 11,000 will be made redundant in 2000 when the MD-80/90 and MD-11 lines finally come to a halt.

A further 12,000 jobs are due to be cut within Boeing's commercial operations in the Washington area, while cuts are also expected in California and Missouri. Boeing adds that "-the exact number of jobs affected is still being determined", but suggests the total overall could be 28,000.

With the opening of the new 737 line, Boeing is also dropping the Douglas name, calling the business the Long Beach division. Assembly of the first 737 BBJ is due to start in California in October, with a roll-out planned for December. The rate of production is expected to rise to three a month by the second quarter of 1999.

Other "non-standard" configurations to be built at the plant include convertible freighter versions of the 737-700 being produced for the US Navy, which are expected to start moving down the line in the second half of 1999.

The line will be situated in a bay of the building which is now used for MD-11assembly, and production could be raised to seven a month if needed. Boeing Commercial Airplane Group president Ron Woodard says that no approval has yet been given for more than three a month. "Currently, we don't expect to assemble more than four or five a month," he adds.

With the opening of the fourth 737 line, total monthly production of the twinjet will reach 27 by the second quarter of 1999. Three of these will be 737 "Classics" built at Renton along with 21 Next Generation aircraft, while the balance will be at Long Beach.

Other changes within the Boeing group include consolidation of fighter aircraft production in St Louis, Missouri, where the Joint Strike Fighter will now be built, if it wins the production contract. The Information & Communications Systems business unit will move from Kent, Washington, to Anaheim, California. All Government-owned sites in Downey, California, will be vacated.

Within the Information, Space & Defense Systems (ISDS), consolidation will reduce each of its major activities to one major location. Alan Mulally, president of ISDS, says the 21% reduction will save more than $1.6 billion over the next five years.

Source: Flight International