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All Good Things Must Come to An End: Boeing Begins Winding Down C-17 Workforce

by: Matthew Potter
January 21, 2011

Category: Arizona, Australia, Boeing, Business Line, California, Companies, Congress, Contract Additions, Contract Awards, Countries, Department of Defense, England, Events, Federal Budget Process, logistics, Military Aviation, Missouri, production program, Qatar, Restructuring, Services, States, U.S. Air Force, UAE, United States | RSS 2.0

The Boeing (BA) C-17 Globemaster III has been one of the most successful military transport aircraft of recent time. Originally designed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas in the early Nineties as a replacement for the C-141 Cold War era aircraft when Boeing merged with the California aerospace giant they took over production of this key aircraft. The U.S. Air Force has taken delivery of over 200 C-17 and there are several more in production at the Long Beach facility.

Unfortunately one of the areas that the Obama Administration targeted for cuts as part of their defense spending reforms was the C-17 program. They were not the first to do this as the Air Force had an acquisition objective of less then 200. Congress against the wishes of different defense secretaries consistently added C-17 aircraft production and support to the budget to get to the current planned quantity of around 220. Critics said this was only due to the fact that up to 50,000 people worked on the program across the United States and the additional aircraft were pure pork. Supporters countered that strategic airlift was critical to support U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and world wide.

This was continued in the 2009 defense supplemental and 2010 budget but with the 2011 budget this ended. There were no more C-17 aircraft to be ordered by the U.S. military.

Boeing has been able to sell the aircraft to some overseas customers. Currently the aircraft is operated by the United Kingdom, Australia, NATO and Qatar. The United Arab Emirates has entered into a contract to buy six aircraft and Kuwait one. India is considering the aircraft to supplement its fleet of Russian made IL-76 transports but right now that is the only major contract pending.

Because the future number of aircraft is limited right now Boeing announced yesterday that over one thousand employees would begin losing their jobs. Workers in Long Beach; St. Louis; Mesa, Arizona and Macon, Georgia will be affected.

In their press release Boeing said: “as the company moves to a new production rate of 10 C-17s per year. Boeing will reduce the production program’s work force by approximately 1,100 jobs through the end of 2012. The company delivered 14 C-17s in 2010.

The move to the new production rate, announced in February 2010, will be completed this summer and result in the elimination of the second shift at the C-17 final assembly facility in Long Beach. The lower production rate is designed to extend the line as Boeing works to capture additional international orders.”

Boeing hopes that new orders will materialize while they slow the production line down to continue it for several months. If the orders do occur they can adjust the speed of line to meet their obligations. If they do not the production rate will slow to zero and thousands more workers will lose their jobs.

Boeing has made it clear in the past that the Long Beach plant which is a legacy of McDonnell Douglas will be closed and not transferred to other Boeing aircraft projects.

All military acquisition programs have a definitive objective for how many systems will be purchased. The C-17 is no different then any other and eventually that number would be reached. Then production will stop.

Without any new major transport program on the horizon for at least the next several years there is no new system for Boeing to bid on and utilize their work force and production capacity.

The C-17 will remain a key system for the Air Force and Boeing will continue some business supporting it but large scale production is finished.

Photo from tony.evans flickr photostream

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