A long article (10 pages when printed) discusses the pitfalls Boeing had by outsourcing so much work on the 787. This much is not new. The point the article raises–transferring technology and the potential decline of US aerospace dominance–isn’t especially new, either; we’ve written about this in the past.
What the article, however, overlooks is that Boeing isn’t alone in doing this. To certain degrees, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer also are guilty–as are a number of other OEMs and suppliers. CFM International, for example entered into a joint venture with the Chinese that would help them develop an modern commercial jet engine. Fortunately, CFM pulled back on this over concerns of technology transfer.
Airbus has an A320 assembly line in Tianjin, China, and Embraer had an ERJ-145 assembly line in the PRC. McDonnell Douglas had an MD-80/MD-90 line in Shanghai.
Bombardier contracts with Chinese companies to produce the Q400 and CSeries fuselages, the latter with the advanced aluminum-lithium metals.
The airframe OEMs will tell you that final assembly represents a small portion of the airplane and the risk of technology transfer is minimal. But it’s probably no coincidence that the COMAC/AVIC ARJ21 looks the the MD-80 (but sized like the DC-9-10) or that the C919 looks an awfully lot like the A320.
The article points out that Mitsubishi, which builds the wings for the Boeing 787, is now using this experience to design and build the MRJ-90. True enough, though it should be noted that having experience the composite wing issues associated with the 787, Mitsubishi abandoned plans for a composite wing for the MRJ and is proceeding with metal instead.
Suppliers are basically extorted by China: if you want to sell us your goods, you have to be prepared to transfer technology. Suppliers can’t ignore this huge market, but try to mitigate the blackmail by transferring “yesterday’s” technology or at least developing tomorrow’s technology today while transferring today’s technology to China.
It doesn’t stop with China, of course. Boeing and Airbus have Russian ties with engineers. Bombardier is planning a Q400 assembly line in Russia. Indian engineers work on Airbus and Boeing airplanes and now plan their own turbo-prop.
The days of the Big Two Duopoly are numbered. And it’s not just Boeing that is guilty of aiding and abetting the new competition.
Boeing’s Good Year in 2013
Set aside the disruptive and embarrassing ground of the 787 in January through April, Boeing had a very good year in 2013. It posted a record rate of deliveries, besting Airbus for the second year in a row. It’s order book was the best since 9/11. Here is the press release.
Airbus announces its 2013 production and delivery results on January 13.
Boeing-IAM vote: After-thoughts
We can’t go by this week without a short commentary on the Boeing-IAM vote on Friday, but we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this—we’ve analyzed this issue a number of times and there is little more to say except this:
It was a very tough vote for the union members of IAM 751. Giving up benefits won in previous hard-fought battles is always tough. But the Boeing 777X will be assembled in Washington State, and the composite wings will be built in Washington, too. Our view is that having 80% of something (benefits) is better than 100% of nothing (the 777X).
Boeing, of course, will return to the State and the union for more tax breaks and concessions when the 757 and 737 replacements are designed and a decision is needed about where to build these airplanes. Boeing is now in a position to seem more concessions from labor during a contract that’s in place to September 2024, and the union can’t strike. It’s been significantly weakened, losing leverage ion addition to benefits as a result of Friday’s contract vote.
But this enables Boeing to tell customers the threat of delivery disruptions from strikes is gone, and this will reassure them, which may or may not help sales—thus providing more work for IAM members.
Boeing faces a huge morale problem for the members who feel they’ve been had in this process. IAM members have long, long memories. Although there is no option to strike, members can “work to the rules” or find other ways to decrease productivity. Boeing has some real fence-mending to do. We’ll see whether it makes any effort to do so.
Labor isn’t content with the narrow yes vote, however. Some are calling for a third vote, arguing the January 3 election date was set to deliberately disenfranchise a large number of union members who likely would have voted No. Turnout last week was lower than the November 13 vote because many members were still on vacation from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.