Boeing should “dual source” 737 fuselage work–right here in Puget Sound

Boeing’s 737 line suffered a second disruption when a train carrying fuselages from Spirit AeroSystems derailed in Montana, sending three of six down an embankment and into a river.

Source: PBS.

The disruption may be short-lived, but nonetheless highlights the issue of relying on Spirit as a sole-source supplier for 737 fuselages. This is the second time in two years there has been a disruption for the 737 line. A tornado struck the Spirit plant in 2012, closing the facility for a short time. Damage was slight, but had the twister been more of a direct hit, the impact on Boeing would have been severe.

With Boeing planning to bring production of the 737 line to 47/mo by 2018 and pondering rate 52 and even rate 60, the company should consider creating a second fuselage production line–and it should be right here in Puget Sound.

While we are not without natural disaster risk here–we’ve written many times about the earthquake fault lines that run through the area–having two locations for the 737 line makes sense. (We’ve also said that when Boeing in the past has suggested creating or moving a production line outside Puget Sound, it should point to natural disaster risk diversity rather than beating up the unions, a position we still advocate.)

Where would another 737 fuselage line go? Based on our discussions, Boeing Field might be one possibility. Or the 737-based P-8 Final Assembly Line might move to Boeing Field and the “sawtooth” building in which the P-8 is currently located could become a location. Or, perhaps, Everett. Once the 747 is discontinued (we estimate by the end of this decade, although Boeing officials continue to say it will live on into the next) a second 737 production line could be located here. The timing could be quite convenient: ending the 747 could occur just about the time another rate hike in the 737 line would be needed.

Construction of the new 777X production facility might free up the current 777 production line, presenting another possible option–though we don’t see the timing working out as well as the 747-737 scenario.

Regardless, it’s clear to us that Boeing needs to look at some options for another 737 production site–and the skilled workers and convenient location argue for Puget Sound.

62 Comments on “Boeing should “dual source” 737 fuselage work–right here in Puget Sound

  1. How will they get those fuselages out of the mud? Are those damaged beyond repair?

    Does Boeing customize the fuselages in Wichita (installing customer-specific options) or are all fuselages the same when their reach Renton (apart from being a -700. -800 or -900)?

  2. If you look close, the fuselages are still on the custom made rail cars. All three damaged fuselages look like they are B-737-900ER models. One has a crack across the crown. Just from the few pictures I have seen it looks like the damage is repairable. But I have only seen a few pictures, as I said. That is far from a detailed engineering assessment of the damage, and it is possible they could be W/O.

    • As a customer, would you want to take a brand new airplane that’s been submerged or with a cracked fuselage?

      • they repaired the burned 787, why not repair these – if Boeing offers an appropriate discount for the reduced life/repairability of these frames?

        • Yep, of course 787s are rare and 737s kind of like popcorn
          (well, ducks maybe).

          will see, its all in the assesment.

  3. Either that or move the final assembly to Kansas. Traffic around Renton is bad. That seems like it makes it an inefficient and obsolete location for the access of workers and goods.

    • You’re not going to move an FAL for 42/mo now and committed to 47/mo; besides, the IAM 751 contract voted in January requires MAX to be built in Renton.

      • The contract holds them to final assembly, however Boeing wishes to define it. Further, the contract contains a gaping hole, which Boeing can drive right though if it deems itself out of capacity:


        “the Company will produce the 737NG models and 737MAX models in Renton , to the extent such production can be feasibly completed in the current and existing 737 Renton production facilities.”

        Even if Boeing has space in Everett, or Seattle, they are free to outsource. Boeing controls the definition of “feasible” and there isn’t a thing the unions can do about it.

  4. They should at least make smaller convoys to spread the risk.

  5. Scott, I respectively disagree. I agree a second B-737 fuselage supplier is needed, but I don’t think Boeing should put all their eggs in one basket (location).
    An offshore earthquake and tsunami could possibly put the Puget Sound area out of business for years, or longer. As you know there are several dozen earthquake faults within Puget Sound, as well Cascadia seduction zone off the coast.
    I believe the last major earthquake from the Cascadia Fault was in January 1700, and the tsunami reached Japan and cause thousands of deaths there. Almost no one was living in what is now the SEA-TAC area, so most damage amounted to killing some trees with salt water.
    But damage to Boeing facilities is likely. But more important would be damage to infrastructure that Boeing depends on, roads, bridges, railways, and of course airports. PAE should be alright with a field elevation of 600′, but BFI at 21′ and RNT at 32′ will be a loss.
    Boeing has some options. Build fuselages at the C-17 plant in Long Beach, CA, or build them at Charleston, SC, or even contract out the work to plants like the Lockheed/Martin plant in Fort Worth, TX.
    One major event on a railway should not cause Boeing to consider not shipping fuselages or other parts by train. Trains have proven to be very reliable to Boeing, as river, roadway, and rail are to Airbus in the EU.

    • No place is totally immune, including Dallas/Ft Worth, where TopBoom lives, which has lots of tornadoes and sometimes hail storms severe enough to damage airplanes to the point of temporary withdrawal from service for repairs.

      • Nope, but Mosses lake is pretty stable. Lots of land, nice Airport and …… (its above the tide line!)

    • ..uhh TopBoom(er) …” but BFI at 21′ and RNT at 32′ will be a loss…

      Not quite- agree that BFI along the duamish waterway would be underwater- but renton is at south end of lake washington. So tsunmi would have to surge thru ballard locks, thru lake union, thru waterway and into lake wash with enough total water to raise lake level 3 to 4 feet ( depending on time of year ) to do other than get pavement wet. And thats after going thru puget sound- admirality inlet, etc.

  6. Lets see SC has hurricanes, flooding, sometimes tornados-
    Wichita has tornados
    Puget sound has earthquakes, and maybe tsunami

    Long beach – sooner or later california will simply fall off into the pacific west of san andreas fault.

    All of which can screw up production for days, weeks, or months- directly re factory or indirectly ( due to suppliers, transportation, power, roads, etc)

    Moses lake- Spokane -Fairchild Airbase has snow problems from time to time, few earthquakes, little flooding, and close to major power.

    Makes one wonder why it never made the cut . . .

  7. “the company should consider creating a second fuselage production line–and it should be right here in Puget Sound.”

    Smells like opportunism if you ask me. A lower cost location seems appropiate.

    • lower cost – how about the Ukraine ? XIAN ? Texas ?

        • sure- ‘ near’ las vegas is a large underground multi billion $$ underground- stable- well protected area that was to be used for a nuke depository. I’m sure Harry Reid would welcome such a benign use as a airplane factory- sinc ehe stopped its use as a repository.

  8. Bloody hell, my first reaction on first seeing this was it was someone playing with Photoshop. As for reworking these fuselages as Scott rightly states as virgin airframes who would take them, their scrap…

    This particular procedure of transportation does seem rather archaic & as we now see carries a high risk with such numbers of fuselages, but then Airbus has it’s own equally strange transportation methods albeit not in such numbers at any one time.

    I imagine the train & it’s bogies are a dedicated design for fuselage transportation I just wonders what damage was done to those fuselages that did not take a bath.

    Scott’s correct in raising the question as to why the outsourcing such a critical element from a single manufacturer was allowed to happen. This once again illustrates Boeings lack of prowess/experience in such third party sourcing.

    • I am not sure the logic on single source holds up for this incident. While it makes sense in the context of a tornado and a single plant in kansas, i am not sure how that relates to the train derailment. I could have two plants for fuselages and I would still ship by rail and be at risk of a derailment.

      What am i missing?

  9. I assume it wasn’t that different when this supplier had the Boeing logo above the front door.

    The 737 process is producing complete fuselages and outfitting them later instead of more complete sections, like e.g. A320 and 787. Complete fuselages don’t fit trucks or aircraft.

  10. For a moment, I thought that Boeing had decided to replace the train by log driving in the river to transport the fuselages :).

  11. Any second 737 line should of course be in Washington. You’re talking about a changeover happening in a few years to a model produced in massive quantities with less than 10-12 years on the clock until it’s replacement family is flying around. There’s no need to create a labor war over that (relatively) short-term/stop-gap line, if there is one at all, when the real battle/decision will be the 797.

    As for natural disasters in the Puget Sound area, my guess is Boeing is pretty heavily insured against all but the most extreme scenarios.

    • RE insurance – with typical BA cost cutting and power point rangers, and contracts that allow for acts of god or union strikes – its a bet insurance is minimal.

      What is needed is an exclusion for acts of God, BOD, or McNearney. .

    • You can’t insure loss of production. Even if you could, customers need the aircraft, Boeing pays the customers back, customers go to Airbus (if possible) and …. Wrong quake and years in recovery.

      Too many eggs in that basket and always thought so.

      You need a full stand alone entity in a stable location. Central WA works well.

      Boeing always complained about Everett and regs but never thought to start a slow move elsewhere.

      Charleston does not count as big chunks of 787 are made elsewhere (earthquake prone Italy and Japan, yipeed)

      Seattle cost of living its through the roof. Crowded as SFO these days. ugh. Lovely city and area but lots of downslides.

  12. These won’t be written from what I understand. The same principal applies when you ship with FX and UPS. The shipping company, air, rail or sea, is responsible for the goods in transport. In this case Boeing will either get a check for value of the goods damaged or Boeing will bill the shipping company and whoever else is responsible.

    • That’s not a given. The packet carriers forex tend to provide for limited liability only .
      For bespoke transport there is a good chance that insurance is handled separately ( or not at all as entities big enough might judge the statistical risk as a lesser burden than paying insurance fees for every transport )

  13. As a geomorphologist the chance of a tsunami in Washington State is infinitely less than that of a twister in Kansas as quite apart from the rarity of the event both Vancouver Island and the fluctuating sea-bed behind the Strait of Juan de Fuca minimise the impact. In reality the single greatest risk of natural disaster there is an eruption of Mount Rainier. So whatever excuse Boeing came up with in terms of natural disasters would be an invention.

    Having said that is is possible that Boeing would be so ludicrously inept as to try to void the terms of the contract? And after accepting money from the state? All a bit baffling to me – I find it difficult to imagine either the courts or the state allowing that here in Canada.

  14. Boeing should decide on the spot to have the damaged fuselages scrapped. But if not, transport them to BFI. Put them in the B-52 hangar and then inspect them down to the rivet, nut and bolt level. My experience with Boeing’s structural engineers, QA inspectors and mechanics indicates that any such inspections will be without mercy. How much do you want to bet that the inspectors will decide that they are beyond economical repair?

    Even if they could be repaired by heroic Boeing AOG effort, could they be warranteed as new? What customer would even think of accepting these damaged and repaired “new” airplanes even at a hefty discount? Typical new airplane lifetime would be several decades. Who could guarantee that a hidden defect could not emerge during that time with possible lethal effect?

    These are empty shells. Let Boeing and the lawyers decide who pays for the damage and delivery delays. In the mean time, build new fuselages to be mated with the waiting [and undamaged] wings and empennage.

    Someone suggested these be used as test mules for the MAX. Good idea. Or donate them to a community college giving A&E courses. Otherwise, scrap them

    Remember the new Etihad A340-600 that jumped its chocks and tore off the nose section? That airplane was totaled.

    As for a 2nd line at BFI, history would be repeating itself. Early 737-100’s [only 30 built] and 737-200’s were assembled there beginning in 1967, in what was known as the Thompson Building

    • ..USAF is in a budges squeeze and might take them at a suitable discount…

      What 737s are the USAF involved in ? Do you mean USN – and do you KNOW those are P8 body sections ??

    • A valid point US investment in its railway infrastructure is not what it might be & it shows..

      • Phil, the railroad companies are the ones who maintain the rail roadways and tracks and one derailment is not an indication of lack of investment.

  15. Whoa! I thought those flyin contraptions were SAFE – if ya didn’t give em wings!

  16. If these fuselages were ever put in service they would be subject to extra insurance payments’, not to mention extra maintenance checks. I agree with Keesje, USAF is in a budges squeeze and might take them at a suitable discount.

  17. The Boeing plant in Long Beach as a good area for 737 diversification. Or the nearby northern states for a greenfield plant. Boeing is too concentrated in Puget Sound, not good for disaster abatement.

  18. Yes to a second 737 fuselage production line in Renton.
    Yes to a second 737 final assembly line in Wichita.

  19. Well, it certainly shows the risk of single source.

    But second source could be in California.
    Oh, wait? it too is high cost due government meddling.

    And note the risk of production in a single building, due fire or TBO.

    • Second sourcing doesn’t really do much for loss in transit, does it?
      One can limit damage from a single supplier breaking down for whatever reason.
      But then expecting the other source to take up the slack in no time would be quite naive.

  20. BTW, flying would be a second transportation path.
    (Douglas took to flying DC-10 wings from Ontario to Long Beach, after finding bullet holes from the train journey.)

  21. I would be less worried about a properly repaired fuselage after a derailment than a fuselage completely built in a state that has legalized recreational pot.

    • AT BOEING even a trace in the grunts or supervisors can get you fired.
      Stoners are limited to Chicago Board Room 🙂

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