Pontifications: Workforce plan for NMA to be announced soon

By Scott Hamilton

Oct. 1, 2018, © Leeham Co.: The Choose Washington NMA task force said last week it will release this month recommendations for improving aerospace workforce activities in Washington.

It’s about time.

The task force was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to come up with a plan to persuade Boeing to choose Washington as the assembly site for its prospective New Midmarket Airplane, the NMA.

Two studies, one by the Teal Group and the other by Price Waterhouse Cooper, conclude Washington is the best aerospace cluster and location to build the NMA. The conclusions are unsurprising, given the maturity, size and scope of the cluster in Puget Sound (the greater Seattle area). No other place in the country has this level of aerospace activity.

But the reports failed to adequately address the top priority that Boeing has: the need for skilled workers and engineers.

At long last, the NMA council is getting there.

Workforce required

I’ve written several times about the absence of focus on workforce by the NMA task force.

Boeing faces retirement of more than 5,000 engineers and technicians over the next 5-10 years. It faces a like number of retirements from the touch-labor workforce, over the same period.

In neither case is there a clear path to replacing this workers in these quantities.

The looming engineers shortage is one reason Boeing looks to Embraer in proposing a new, joint venture company. EMB has lots of engineers with little to do, now that the E2 program is largely complete. Assigning NMA work to them is an obvious benefit of the JV.

When I attended the I-90 Aerospace Corridor conference in April in Spokane (WA) (the state’s second largest aerospace cluster), three key people at the conference complained to me on the sidelines that the NMA council was missing the boat (to mix the metaphor) by failing to address the workforce need.

At the Leeham Co./Airfinance Journal Southeast Aerospace and Defence Conference in Mobile (AL) in June, the Aerospace Alliance members “got it.” When asked what the top emphasis was for companies seeking to locate in the Southeast, it wasn’t incentives or lower cost of living and doing business. The answer was “workforce, workforce, workforce.”

Related article

Stepping up

The NMA task force last week announced that it will announce strategy and policy recommendations this month. (It seems to have taken the lead of Airbus and Boeing, which announce airplane orders two or three times via Letters of Intent, Memorandums of Understanding, Air Show events and finally the firm orders….)

“It’s no surprise Washington has the deepest pool of aerospace talent of any state,” the NMA task force said in a press release. “It reflects the incredible work happening at K-12, apprenticeship, community and technical college, and university levels to equip Washington youth and adults with highly competitive aerospace skills,” said co-lead Chelsea Orvella of SPEEA, the Boeing engineers union. “I’m confident in and impressed by the vision our work group is bringing forward to grow these strengths well into the future.”

The NMA Council’s Workforce Development Work Group will propose “an innovative workforce and education strategy for aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

“Meeting since March, the work group assessed programs contributing to the state’s robust system of aerospace-related workforce development and identified 12 areas of improvement as part of a comprehensive strategy to grow aerospace careers and support the needs of aerospace companies,” the task force’s press release said. “The group is currently using its comprehensive strategy as a platform to develop a set of policy recommendations for consideration by the NMA Council. Strategy and policy recommendations are due to be released in October.”

A preview as it was outlined to me:

  • One result is coordinating all the workforce programs – K-12, apprenticeships, CTCs, 4-year colleges, and various programs for mid-career workers.
  • Another result will be legislative proposals.
  • A third result is positioning the state for whatever specific demands Boeing makes.
  • One realization early on is that much of this “we should be doing anyway.”

A lot is already being done but not coordinated and regional rivalries tend to compete with each other rather than work with each other, said a person familiar with the process. The Work Force task group wants to eliminate these rivalries.

It’s something that some of the states in the Southeast already do. For example, Mississippi’s high schools and colleges have easily transferable credits–which many of Washington’s educational entities do not.

The task group’s recommendations still have to run the gambit of the entire Choose Washington NMA council and its executive board, whose members represent the very rivalries that proved to be roadblocks on previous commissions appointed by governors.

28 Comments on “Pontifications: Workforce plan for NMA to be announced soon

  1. “Two studies, one by the Teal Group and the other by Price Waterhouse Cooper, conclude Washington is the best aerospace cluster and location to build the NMA. ”

    Good, it would have been a disaster if Richard Aboulafia had concluded Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA area is the best aerospace cluster and location to build the NMA.

    I would advise the Aerospace Alliance to look a bit further than tax cuts & boasting existing skills. The workforce have families, long term stability is important and Boeing will be prevent all to intimate partnerships / dead strangles over the longer term. That’s reality.

  2. Funny that Boeing uses its spare cash for share buy backs rather than investing in the community that got it where it is.

    I am not talking about the PR part, I am talking about the in depth commitment to educaiton.

    That takes a tax base.

    And the tax base? If you give Boeing tax breaks, then either you short other requirements for a State, or you take it from the workers.

    As far as education goes, that has long been the flaw in the system. Not all people want to run a desk.

    I certainly had the capability for college, but I liked working with my hands.

    I have been doing that since I left high school.

    It didn’t alwyas pay great, but I could get at least some work anywhere I went and always got job offers.

    Blue collar is looked down on, but there are a great number of areas of mechanics, controls in all fields that are hands on you can work up towards and into.

    One of my best laughs was the day a manager saw me with a laptop in the ceiling while I was tuning an air box.

    Wow he says, its gone high tech. No, it always was high tech, its just used fluidic logic (pneumatics) to do the job.

    There is a whole science as well as some art to pneumatic controls. That is going away, but the basics of it remain like electrical (read the old books, they phrase it differently but they are pushing electrons around the same way they always got pushed around)

    HVAC is an area that brings many disciplines together.

    Engines are now totally electronic controlled and the need for both mechanics and electronics/computers be there.

    We now have a pilot shortage. Back in the 50s, they hired people, paid them at least enough to eat and maintain yourself, put them through school and they came out the end with an ATR (OSM in Norway is doing that again)

    But, Boeing wants to be the pig at the end of the trough that says, “Feed Me” I don’t want to move.

    Its time that Boeing changed its attitude as well.

  3. I would like to be able to see Bjorns analysis on the NMA and TFX connection.

    That is an angle that had not occurred to me.

    • USAF support is far easier to do as that occurs at a very small number of locations. There would be limited number of training bases and likely one major support site. As well air force yearly flight hours are minuscule compared to all airlines.
      Airlines dont work like that, you have dozens of customers scattered all over the world, most have their own support to a certain level Theres different languages and work standards although the maintenance is supposed to be to same standard. Major items like engines, undercarriage, avionics have their support from the existing suppliers- who arent going to hand that over to Boeing.
      By the time you take out line maintenance which is highly dispersed and maintenance on expensive major items, whats left for the OEM manufacturer? Engines suppliers already offer power by the hour, not much room for a new middleman.

    • let me guess :
      Boeing takes up the Soviet model of aircraft production.
      Design and manufacture are separate entities.
      TX is a SAAB design taken from the drawer.
      Boeing produces that design. ( but sells it as its own 🙂
      i.e. the NMA will be an Embraer design


    • Doesnt make sense to build in US for international sale- as there isnt a likely US military order. While more suitable for smaller militarys especially for longer route flying, it doesnt have the rugged field capability of the Herc- the C130J version has mostly replaced the older versions anyway. The existing C-17 fits the US requirement for longer routes.

        • higher/faster/farther are nice, but not necessarily better for the tactical transport/utility aircraft role. for many tasks the Herk performs, slow and persistent is good

          the Herk has proven to be immensely durable, has excellent short/rough field capabilities, has been modified 100 different ways for dozens of different missions: (just a sample) aircraft refueling, heli refueling, airborne persistent howitzer, propaganda, sigint, weather, polar, RATO/JATO STOL configurations, deep penetration combat Search and Rescue, satellite payload retrieval, high altitude air drop, LARPS and more.

          it has landed on 50′ * 3000′ runways made out of Gravel, Marston PSP and AM-2 matting and then taken off again under heavy fire. It has lost engines and parts of wings to enemy action and still completed the mission.

          until the -390 has done even 1/10th of that, suggesting it is superior in every aspect is ludicrous.

          • Clearly the so called KC390 is not superior to the Herc for a tactical mission and only superior to a 737 for freight if its a bulk item.

            Where it slots in is soft tactical for air forces that really are not going to be in a fight (or one they have to Austin themselves with) but want to look modern.

            I don’t see Brazil, Argentina, Chile or whoever the interested parties are getting into the ISIS fight or Afghanistan. Toodle around SA and move a jeep, an armored car, a radar system from here to there.

            As for the KC, really? Its a C with some future fueling potential. But for the A330MRT group, its what, 1/3 the capability?

            If a KC46 is just too small what does that make the KC390?

          • @bilbo
            The Herc doesn’t do most of those task extremely well, it just does them well enough.
            Every airforce has to decide what performance on different missions/tasks they want and how much they are willing to pay for it.
            Until recently the clear winner for almost every Western or Western alligned airforce would be the Herc. The KC390 changes that.

            Something not exactly clear yet will be how much it costs to use the KC390. I think its safe to say maintenance costs for the engines will be a lot cheaper.
            How about fuel burn?

            Apart from losing engines and still sompleting the mission (the KC390 would be a terrible glider), wich specific task you mentioned could the KC390 not do?
            And would that task not be served well by a C27J, CN245 or C295?

          • I have been exposed to the C130 and Transall C160 in the early 80’s during military service. Not sure about the KC-390 abilities but being exposed to SAM 7 & 8’s in real combat conditions where you had to to para-jumps from low level to oxygen jumps the two props were great.

            The C130 had extremely good climbing capabilities, flares kept the missiles under control, but the C160 was stunning with a high rate spiral decent which felt as if you basically “crash” into the landing strip, but you always walked away, a good landing.

          • @Julian – the KC-390 would certainly have a hard time with the gunship mission, deep penetration combat SAR (have you seen the skyhook mechanism?), anything that requires long duration at low speeds and low altitudes.

            we have no basis to know (at this point) if the structure of the KC-390 is built robustly enough to deal with the structural loads imposed by many of the special missions the Herk has been adapted for.

            not saying it isn’t a good plane, but to suggest that it is clearly superior when it isn’t even in operational service yet and 2 of the flight test aircraft have been damaged beyond economic repair during routine test flights seems a bit berserk.

          • The blurb on the KC390 says the engine are for efficient operation, not worst.

            So yes its a nice jet rig that goes a bit faster, flitting around the neighborhood but not a serious hard use combat aircraft.

            As an adjunct it may make some sense, but its not a mainline repalcment for a C-130.

            It gives Boeing something to throw bids out for and win some.

          • I dont think the KC-390 mishaps cant be taken as the structure isnt robust enough.
            One incident seemed to involve flight test equipment coming loose at altitude and the other was a runway excursion – without even taking off.
            The Herc would have had plenty of ground mishaps over its life and it doesnt mean its ‘flimsy’ , although the first 12 or so C130A had to have their tail structure rebuilt as it was ‘too weak’

          • Well the C130 no doubt has strongpoints, but it seems the KC390 has more. It can move bigger heavier vehicles. That is needed. The C130 is a great machine but shouldn’t handicap the USAF to move forward on newer technology. Congressman protecting the local assembly line / jobs shouldn’t put the men out there at risk.

          • Well a Armored Bridage takes something like 120 M1 and Bradl 0 vehicles as I recall.

            Close to 28 tons for a Bradly, and will it fit?

            While C5 and C17 did fly tanks to ME, they did not put them into forward air field.

            A few Strykers won’t make any difference (and they need a lot of ammo and fuel to go with them).

            Its the day in day out supplies into rugged strips that the C-130 thrives on, C-17 does not insert (it can but its high risk ) into a battlefield, it supplies main centers and then distributed out from there by air (critical need) or vehicle.

            The only reason Franc was going to buy them was a direct exchange for the Rafael fighter for Brazil.

            Otherwise, its A400 and Herc for France as well.

    • McDonnell-Douglas / Boeing have long had businesses producing foreign designs though. The AV-8 series and the Goshawk come to mind.

      • Both the above were seriously modified. One was never intended as a Navy Trainer and the AV-8 had major problems that got better sorted after a do over.

        Sure they can build foreign stuff – just how foreign the TF-X is?

        Maybe a lot, Boeing finally won with it!

        I can see the US Navy moving to some of them for the F-35 training end. They don’t have a supersonic trainer as such.

        • US navy has never needed a dual seat supersonic trainer only before, why would they need one now. The closest they came to a supersonic ‘lead in trainer’ was the single seat Grumman F-11 Tiger , which was unwanted as a day fighter but had benign handling.
          Having all these training types which involve a conversion process in themselves is a waste of time and money. I see the US Army is going to basic training on a dual engine helicopter as thats the configuration of their fleet. Simulators are far better way to get student pilots used to tricky stuff first.

          • Well the USAF seems to think its needed, sure seems like its a good idea.

            Certainly with a modern cockpit that can match the F-35 at least in simulation.

  4. The governor is a hypocrit. While he lobbies for Boeing to build ever more jet fuel – burning planes in his state he has spoken out against the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to BC, which supplies jet fuel to the NW. Dreamliners aren’t powered by dreams.

    • Well, that is well out of context.

      Maybe fill us in on the issues around Trans Mountain?

  5. I haven’t seen it mentioned here in the comments, but a massive issue in/around Seattle is the hypergrowth powered by Amazon which is causing big increases in the cost of living — not to mention that Amazon is like a black hole, absorbing tremendous numbers of people. Aerospace engineers are not necessarily a top priority for Amazon, but to some extent Amazon is interested in anyone who is generically smart, and there are likely a significant number of people who could potentially transfer from a Boeing job to Amazon. Boeing also needs plenty of scientific/tech types beyond aerospace engineers.

    A lot of Seattle resources are being overwhelmed at the moment. Just reaching the terminal building at SEA can sometimes be an issue — definitely a case of 15 lbs of manure in a 10lb bag.

  6. Boeing has plenty of workers to support the NMA. Last year alone, Boeing let go over 6000 people in the Pacific NorthWest because there isn’t enough work from them to do. Also, there is talks of more layoffs next year as the engineering work for the 737MAX is basically complete and the 777X is mostly complete.

  7. Embraer engineers taught by at least one Canadian I knew.

    Boeing has to get its act together, unlike its performance on 787.

    Engineering processes poor, some suppliers ruining it for everyone else (verticalization of supply chain made it worse). management living in denial despite military side of company trying to educate them, then person who botched the program gets appointed to peddle another unrealistic scheme.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *