SEATTLE TIMES: Wobbly Boeing makes hard decisions
With its viability in question, the focus should be on factors that build long-term resilience
The direness of Boeing’s condition is clear. An ongoing 19% companywide workforce reduction will cut more than 30,000 jobs from its 2019 levels. The company is expected to sit on immense empty space in its Everett plant and may sell its huge Commercial Airplanes headquarters office in Renton. There are operating losses, hundreds of undelivered 737s and 787s, and a pandemic eviscerating potential demand for years. Rival Airbus will deliver about 500 jets this year; Boeing, about 170.
Boeing’s standing, both in its industry and as one of Washington’s flagship businesses, has not been so precarious in decades. While Boeing has moved its executives to Chicago and 787 production to South Carolina, the company remains vital as a Puget Sound economic engine. The converse is also true. Because so much of Boeing is still Washington-centric, state policies about taxation, education, workforce and livability will affect the company’s ability to rebound.
That’s what needs to be the focus now — the factors that build long-term mutual resiliency. The “hard look” at tax breaks state governor Jay Inslee spoke of in early October after Boeing announced its 787 production move, sounded like the rhetoric of years earlier, after the company’s other shifts out of state. That’s the tone of a scorned partner, not a pragmatic realist. The facts are that Boeing is making cold, and difficult, business decisions with its long-term viability an open question.
Boeing bears responsibility for many of its challenges and must reform. The appalling safety and oversight failures federal investigators found in the 737 Max project ought to prompt a thorough overhaul of Boeing’s culture. External moves should focus on how to encourage this transformation and revive the ethos of excellence that once defined Boeing. Regulatory changes are in order, notably a much-needed federal overhaul of safety certification.
Boeing has a lot to rebuild, and churlish haggling over tax breaks is not the best way Washington can play a productive role. If ever Boeing needed Washington to be the world’s best place to build aircraft, that time has come. /Seattle, November 1
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