Boeing will decide where to build the re-engined 737 in “six to eight months” according to Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Jim Albaugh.
In a report by Dominic Gates of the Seattle Times, Albaugh told workers at the company’s current 737 assembly site in Renton, Wash, last week that Boeing plans to conduct a thorough evaluation of “all the pluses and minuses. Renton clearly has a lot of pluses.”
The move has also sparked the beginning of a campaign to persuade the company to build the aircraft at the 737’s traditional home.
Although in June it was clearly assumed by many at Boeing, including the current senior management of the Renton site, that the next generation of the 737 or a successor would also be built there, this view was later cast into doubt.
Uncertainty was caused by Boeing CEO Jim McNerney who, in an earnings call on July 27, cautioned that “we can’t confirm where we’re going to put it precisely.”
Renton expansion options - between a lake and a hard place? (Mark Wagner)
Will McNerney’s and Alaugh’s comments also kick off a mad multi-state scramble similar to that seen in March 2003? It was then that Mike Bair, the leader of the 7E7 program, announced the location for the final assembly of what would later become the 787 was up for grabs.
Nine months later, Boeing and contractor McCallum Sweeney Consulting, selected Everett. Although at the time it seemed a no-brainer to many, the final decision was apparently far from easy. Everett was selected after Boeing evaluated highly competitive bids from more than 80 alternative sites.
Even more crucially, it was picked only after Washington State had offered $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives.
Prophetically, at the time of the selection process, Bair also said “we haven’t even ruled out multiple sites.” This prospect that would come to fruition six years later with the selection of Charleston, South Carolina, as the site of the second 787 final assembly plant.
Tight space on today's 737 lines - but it can handle more says Boeing. (Guy Norris)
So what could happen this time? Could the new 737 be built at a new site, say in Wichita or Texas where there is existing infrastructure, expertise and ample room for expansion? Or could room be found at Renton where for workers there, the 737 is truly in the blood. Or could perhaps Boeing decide to split production between multiple sites?
Whatever the verdict here’s hoping for the sake of Boeing, prospective 737 operators and the industry as a whole, the lessons of the recent past have truly been taken to heart.