Boeing Spreads ‘Business Risk’ with Charleston Expansion

 - June 3, 2013, 3:10 PM
Although union contracts guarantee that Boeing 737 airframe assembly will stay in Renton, Washington, plans call for design and assembly of the engine nacelle to move from Goodrich to a new Boeing center in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Boeing)

Boeing sent yet another signal last week that its use of cheaper labor markets in the southeastern U.S. would only accelerate when it announced plans to open a new propulsion engineering center in Charleston, South Carolina, to support the 737 Max. The move comes as part of a wider plan encompassing the establishment of new centers for engineering design and out-of-production airplane support for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Washington State and Southern California. According to Boeing, the centers will operate “independently but cooperatively” and with the existing Commercial Airplanes engineering design center in Moscow, Russia.

Now performed by Goodrich for the current 737 line, the work in Charleston will involve design and assembly of the engine nacelle inlet for the Max and eventually support future programs, said Nicole Piasecki, vice president and general manager of Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ propulsion systems division.

Meanwhile, a new Southern California design center will become home to engineering support for out-of-production airplanes. Boeing’s Southern California engineering team in Long Beach already serves as the support center for “heritage” McDonnell Douglas airplanes.

“We will leverage the new Southern California design center to create a single location for out-of-production airplane support, enabling us to streamline processes and develop common practices,” said Lynne Thompson, vice president of Boeing Customer Support.

During the next six to nine months, 300 engineering positions and most out-of-production airplane support, including that for the 707, 727, 737-100/-200/-300/-400/-500 and 757, will move from Puget Sound to Long Beach, said Boeing.

Finally, Boeing has begun exploring the possibility of opening a design center in Kiev, Ukraine, to support the Boeing Design Center in Moscow,  which already employs about 1,200 engineers at a fraction of the cost it takes to engage Puget Sound-based members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

“Our opportunity for future growth is unprecedented and this helps us be more competitive by building on our team’s talent and capability–across Boeing, the United States and around the world,” said Mike Delaney, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of engineering. “With these changes, we are structuring Boeing’s engineering operations to support that growth, reduce business risks and to consistently provide the products and services our customers expect.”