With America’s economy in the tank, political rancor in our nation’s capitol, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the senseless killings of five police officers in our state, we needed a bit of good news to jolt us into the Christmas spirit. We got it on Dec. 15 when Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner zipped down the runway and launched into the dreary Washington morning skies on its maiden voyage.
Don’t get me wrong: The 787’s first flight doesn’t erase all the terrible news. It was just nice to see something positive for a change.
An airborne 787 is good news for Washington’s struggling economy. While our state’s economy has not dipped as deeply as Oregon, California or Michigan, nevertheless Gov. Gregoire and state lawmakers must patch a $2.6 billion hole in the two-year operating budget when they gather in Olympia in January.
An expedited 787 production line will generate new taxes from Boeing, its suppliers and workers — all needed to provide our state with the revenue for schools, roads, police and fire departments. On the other hand, more delays in the 787 schedule could prolong our state’s recovery and send the Puget Sound economy into a nosedive. Whether we thrive or languish will depend on how state lawmakers address taxes, fees, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.
Boeing has a lot riding on the new technology incorporated in the Dreamliner. Simply put, the company has bet its commercial aviation future on its success. So far, so good and company shareholders are breathing a little easier.
The 787 is Boeing’s first new aircraft in the last 15 years. It is a lot lighter than comparable planes, is 20 percent more fuel efficient than the outgoing Boeing 767 and has 45 percent more cargo space. It is revolutionary because it is the first commercial jet to be made of composite materials, meaning the body is made of a mixture of carbon fibre and other metals.
Boeing has 55 customers who placed more than 840 orders for the Dreamliner. Those customers have waited anxiously for the last 28 months while the company’s engineers worked out all the bugs. Hopefully, if all of the rigorous testing goes well, the first plane will be delivered to Japan Airlines in late 2010.
Even though some Boeing unions were angered by the company’s decision to ramp up a second production line in South Carolina, more than 12,000 employees and guests lined the runway at Paine Field to watch as the plane lifted off for the first time.
And even though the second production line in Charleston will employee 3,800 people, Boeing’s main commercial production facilities remain in Washington where the company now employs nearly 73,000 people. The trick will be to keep those jobs and future aircraft development here.
Elected officials, lawmakers, regulators and union leaders can help or hinder that effort because Boeing and other companies have more choices of where to site production facilities these days.
The good news this holiday season is that no strikes are looming. For Boeing workers, it is a more prosperous Christmas because they are not coming off a two month strike as in 2008.
Looking ahead to next Christmas, a nice stocking stuffer would be the $35 billion deal to build 179 midair refuelers over the next 15 years to replace the fleet of aging Boeing KC-135 tankers. Japan and Italy already purchased Boeing’s 767 tankers, and the production line can be ramped up quickly if the company lands the Air Force contract. If so, the 767, supplanted by the 787, will see new life, along with our Puget Sound economy. Hopefully, with everyone pulling together, we can make it happen.