SEATTLE — The upcoming Boeing 777X will be designed largely outside of Washington State, according to reports from the Seattle Times. The decision, which was announced internally on Wednesday, comes as a blow to aerospace in Washington State. Yet Ray Goforth, director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employee’s in Aerospace (SPEEA), has cautioned against the doom and gloom outlook the email has caused.

Major work will be done by teams in Charleston, SC; Huntsville, AL.; Long Beach, CA; Philadelphia, PA; St. Louis, MO; and even Moscow, in Russia – basically everywhere but Seattle. Boeing’s move adds to the growing chorus of folks who believe that the Charleston plant will wind up winning the production line.

In a copy of the email obtained by Airchive, Boeing executives Mike Delaney and Scott Fancher noted that “Commercial Airplanes recently established multiple engineering design centers as part of a long-term strategic vision that will enable and support Boeing’s overarching growth and competitive strategy. Commercial Airplanes will utilize these engineering design centers, as well as engineers from other Boeing sites, to design the 777X.” The decision to internally outsource the program from the company’s traditional Seattle hub underscores the ongoing issues with labor, and a desire not to have a repeat of the 787 outsourcing debacle.

Golforth, speaking to the Seattle Times, offered that the decision is not as dramatic as it appears. He pointed out that the work being done is only part of the entire 777X process, and that much of the remaining work requires a level of experience that only the Seattle-based workforce currently possesses. Golforth also added that the decision supports his view that Boeing doesn’t wish to repeat the major outsourcing problems the company faced with the 787.

Boeing has suffered over the years from a bitter relationship between management and unions. The disagreements in wages and benefits among other issues have led to several damaging union strikes, most recently in 2008. It is thought that the building of the Charleston plant, located in right-to-work friendly South Carolina, was in part a way to stabilize production in the face of future strikes. The new plant has stoked significant concern in Seattle that Boeing has begun shifting out of the region, whose economy is highly dependent on the manufacturer. Even with Goforth’s words of optimism, today’s decision will undoubtedly stoke the fires even further.

Boeing's Everett facility. (Credits: Boeing)
Boeing’s Everett facility. (Credits: Boeing) 

The 777X program, which has yet to be formally announced, will be the replacement to the extremely popular 777 aircraft. The Puget Sound region has been pitted against Charleston for who will wind up producing the airplane, even as the Seattle area has long produced the 777. Whichever plant wins will (and it could be both) wind up with substantial job security: The program has already racked up orders, and is expected to pull down even more at the coming Dubai Airshow.

However, Delaney and Fancher added in the email that “at this time, no decisions have been made about 777X design or build in Puget Sound.” Whether the internal outsourcing decision is a sign of things to come or simply a move to gain leverage with the unions remains unclear. But the gloomy skies over Seattle today likely reflect the mood of thousands in the city who cannot help but wonder what the future holds.