Boeing Dreamliner tour stops in Portland

Gresham, Ore., plant workers will visit it today

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Fresh from its around-the-globe junket, Boeing's world-touring 787 Dreamliner took a Thursday side trip to Portland to visit workers who helped build the next-generation passenger plane.

About 1,300 employees out of the 1,700 people who work at the company's Gresham, Ore., plant have signed up for Friday bus trips to Portland International Airport to visit the airplane, hailed by the company as one of its most technologically advanced designs. Also scheduled to tour the new plane were employees of Chicago-based Boeing Co.'s Portland subsidiaries, including chart maker Jeppesen Inc. and Aviall Inc., which distributes spare aviation parts.

The world-touring Dreamliner 787 that landed in Portland was the third of its kind built in 2010 as part of the company's first batch of six planes. It touched down at PDX at around 11 a.m. and slowly taxied to a stop on the tarmac in front of Boeing's dual hangar on the southwest outskirts of PDX.

"We brought it here so that our Boeing employees could see it," said Katherine Overby, Boeing's 787 brand manager, as hangar workers used equipment to tow the Dreamliner inside the 112,000-square-foot hangar.

The workers are part of a vast network in such places as Auburn, Everett, Puyallup and Seattle — as well as Gresham — who contribute to the final product. Nearly a decade after its birth on the draft board, the Dreamliner is part of the Northwest regional economy, as the plants ramp up to meet demand for the luxury Dreamliner and new orders for other Boeing commercial models, including the 737, 747, 767 and 777.

"A lot of (demand) is replacement of older planes," said Vicki Ray, a spokeswoman for Boeing.

In its 2011 outlook, Boeing said it expected to deliver 33,500 new airplanes over the next 20 years, valued at more than $4 trillion,

It has orders for 854 Dreamliners from 59 airlines, a deal valued at more than $175 billion. So far, 13 have been delivered, to All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

Boeing plans to increase Dreamliner production from 3.5 planes per month to 10 per month by the end of 2013, a surge Clark County economic development officials hope will translate to more jobs in the region. About 30 companies in the region have been identified as either being involved in the aerospace business or wanting to get involved.

"We are always evaluating suppliers, although we are very happy with the ones we have," said Lori Gunther, a spokeswoman for the Dreamliner.

The plane is being assembled at plants in Everett and Charleston, S.C. Boeing also operates fabrication plants in Utah, Montana, South Carolina, Canada and Australia.

Gresham employees manufacture the complex "lifeline" parts, components used to fasten the airplane's wings to its fuselage, said Perry Moore, general manager of the plant.

Despite the importance of their jobs, workers at Gresham's 1.2 million square-foot manufacturing plant rarely see the aircraft they work on, Moore said.

"The employees in Everett work with planes every day," he said. "In Gresham, we make the parts."

He said new Boeing orders continue to fuel an expansion of Gresham's 80-acre campus, which will open two new buildings next month. The additional manufacturing space and a new chemical processing facility will accommodate between 300 and 400 new employees hired over the last year, Moore said. He expects to hire another 100 employees in the next 12 months.

As one of the company's most fuel-efficient designs, Boeing officials said the Dreamliner uses about 20 percent less fuel than similar-size airplanes, although it travels at comparable speeds.

For passengers, the 787 Dreamliner offers a wide array of creature comforts, from an environment with higher humidity to larger windows that tint to block out bright sunlight.

"To me, the best things about this airplane are the things you don't see about it," Overby said, although she is fond of the way the Dreamliner lifts its outstretched wings as it goes into flight.

"I call it the Dreamliner smile," she said.