In Our View: Boeing Keeps Going

Friday’s approval by FAA of Dreamliner is another feather in manufacturer’s cap

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One of the defining traits of the Northwest personality remains: There’s a lot to like about Boeing.

If you’re a resident of Clark County or other parts of Southwest Washington, you’ll like the fact that Boeing has a parts plant in Gresham, Ore., and many of its workers commute from this side of the Columbia River. Also, drone maker Insitu, headquartered in Bingen with other offices in the region, is a subsidiary of Boeing.

If you’re a resident of other parts of the state, you’ll like the fact that Boeing employs about 80,000 people and is one of the biggest drivers in the Northwest and national economies. This is fortified by Boeing positioning itself on the global platform as a major airplane manufacturer.

If you’re a fan of cutting-edge technology, especially in aviation, you’ll like the fact that Boeing reached a milestone Friday with certification by the Federal Aviation Administration of the 787 Dreamliner. According to aerospace reporter Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times, this federal stamp of approval also allows “the twin-engine 787 to travel up to three hours away from the nearest airport, allowing it to fly across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.”

And you gotta believe, this baby is no rickety puddle-jumper. The 787 Dreamliner is packed with enough high-tech bells and whistles to have Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh declaring Friday that “this will be an airplane that changes the game.”

A big part of that game change is fuel efficiency. Boeing says the Dreamliner consumes 20 percent less fuel that similar large passenger jets.

The outer surface of the airplane is carbon-fiber-reinforced composite plastic, not aluminum.

It’s also exceptionally quiet. One account from the 4,700 hours of test flights had observers almost believing the engines had been shut down, it was so quiet.

Several delays have plagued the evolution of the 787 Dreamliner since its rollout on July 8, 2007. In his Times story, Gates reported that “delays and technical issues have swelled development costs to somewhere between $12 billion and $18 billion on top of the $5 billion Boeing originally budgeted.”

But the cutting edge is a precarious place full of time-consuming surprises. Even so, the demand for the Dreamliner is so great that, to meet global needs, Boeing hopes to increase production of Dreamliners to seven per month in Everett and three per month in Charleston, S.C.

Which brings us to yet another reason to like Boeing: its continuing battle with the federal government after opening the assembly plant in Charleston, S.C. Suddenly, giant Boeing emerges as underdog favorite against a bigger giant, the federal government, represented by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, apparently oblivious to the fact that an airline manufacturer should be cheered for creating jobs anywhere in America in 2011, is trying to get Boeing’s decision reversed. We suspect that complaint by the NLRB will take a long time, and will get nowhere. As we editorialized earlier, if only the federal government would work as hard to keep U.S. companies from creating jobs overseas as the NLRB is working to keep Boeing from creating jobs in South Carolina.

Yet another reason to like Boeing is because of its role in national security. According to 2009 statistics, Boeing is the third largest U.S. defense contractor. One of the biggest contributions to our defense capabilities was made in February, when Boeing secured a $35 billion contract to convert 767 wide-body jetliners into aerial refueling tankers for the military.

Boeing is imperfect. Development delays in the 787 Dreamliner prove that, but year after year, Boeing keeps proving that it can do big things, and do them right.