Boeing has presented the world with its newest passenger liner, the 787 Dreamliner. It’s a highly advanced plane, built of composite materials (at least 50 percent of the primary structure), in a barrel construction that eliminates longitudinal skin splices (and 1,500 aluminum sheets and 40,000 – 50,000 fasteners), which requires less maintenance and make it lighter and more fuel efficient (20% less fuel, Boeing says), improved engines, corrosion-resistant materials, and of course, a fabulous new interior design with improved lavatories. Who wouldn’t go for that?
According to AviationNews.EU,
The 787-8 Dreamliner will carry 210 – 250 passengers on routes of 7,650 to 8,200 nautical miles (14,200 to 15,200 kilometers), while the 787-9 Dreamliner will carry 250 – 290 passengers on routes of 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles (14,800 to 15,750 kilometers). A third 787 family member, the 787-3 Dreamliner, will accommodate 290 – 330 passengers and be optimized for routes of 2,500 to 3,050 nautical miles (4,600 to 5,650 kilometers).
Sounds great. So what’s the problem?
To start with, although Boeing bills itself as “a top U.S. exporter” the new Dreamliner is not made in the good old U.S.A. – at least not all of it (more on that below). And though the plane’s construction would, says Boeing, add at least 1000 jobs to the South Carolina economy, there’s a fly in the buttermilk: the National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint over their brand new union-free plant in South Carolina, which has an unemployment rate approaching ten percent.
Boeing’s machinist union says Boeing put the plant there because South Carolina has weaker labor laws and to punish them for a 58-day strike in 2008. The jobs would not be new jobs, says the union, but moved jobs. The National Labor Relations Board says moving the jobs for retaliatory reasons is a violation of labor law.
Imagine that – an accusation of a major U.S. corporation violating labor law.
Boeing insists the jobs in South Carolina are not being moved, but are new jobs. South Carolina has a “world-class port” and lower costs (yes, union-free!).
But there is a problem with Boeing’s claim:
Watch the video from CBSNews:
And all this is outside of other problems, namely that the plane is 3 years overdue and billions of dollars over budget. It looks to be a popular plane, with Boeing says they have more than 800 orders (55 from All Nippon Airways alone) for the new plane, which lists at about $200 million. The problems will be compounded by further delays if the South Carolina plant can’t open, which it is supposed to do next month.
Boeing says of itself:
With corporate offices in Chicago, Boeing employs more than 159,000 people across the United States and in 70 countries. This represents one of the most diverse, talented and innovative workforces anywhere. More than 123,000 employees hold college degrees – including nearly 32,000 advanced degrees – in virtually every business and technical field from approximately 2,700 colleges and universities worldwide. Our enterprise also leverages the talents of hundreds of thousands more skilled people working for Boeing suppliers worldwide.
And that’s been part of the problem, reports CNN:
Boeing’s outsourcing of much of the plane’s construction to an army of contractors around the world led to delays and cost overruns.
Apparently trying to save a buck doesn’t always save a buck. The South Carolina plant would save money – it’s nonunion after all – but it would punish Boeing employees in Washington State, the Labor Relations Board says, for going on strike last year, and fighting that battle will cost Boeing money both in legal fees and lost production. Because if the NLRB prevails, the plant’s opening – and therefore the plane’s production – will be delayed, which is a big problem for Boeing, since it says it will need to produce 10 Dreamliners a month by the end of 2013.
CNN reports that according to John Ostrower, a writer for Flight International Magazine “It’s an extraordinary challenge, no one has ever built a wide body aircraft at the rate of 10 per month before. So I think Boeing has its work cut out for it.”
Sounds like he’s right, and that part of the problem at least is of Boeing’s own making in America, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Image from AviationNews.EU