Comment and analysis on all things Charlotte

A Boeing plant at CLT?

Make that a really big Boeing plant at the airport — that’s what the city and state are considering bidding on, says the UPoR. And yes, a cubic megazillion dollars in incentives would be need to pull it off.

Some background: Currently, Boeing builds most of its widebody jets at a plant in Everett, WA (PAE) which opened about 45 years ago for the 747. The company still builds 747 there — along with 767s, 777s, and 787s. (Boeing also has a second 787 line in Charleston, SC.) The 777 is the big production item though; Boeing currently produces 8.3 a month — an even 100 a year. The 777 is on its second generation. The problem for Boeing though is that that production rate is unsustainable — pretty much everyone who is going to buy a current generation passenger 777 already has committed to doing so and follow up orders will only go so far. The earlier generation 777s, which are typically smaller, will start coming up for replacement in the next few years and Boeing doesn’t have a very good replacement available and thus Airbus is gaining lots of orders for its A350 at its expense. Boeing thought it has more time to develop a replacement for its 777-200ER (and the out-of-production Airbus A340-300) but the development program for the A350 has been moving along without major issues.

Thus we see Boeing’s sudden rush to build a new generation of 777, which will feature two models, -8X and -9X. Now obviously, the simplest solution would be to build the new models at the existing 777 plant in Washington state. One big problem: The Everett plant is unionized and the machinist union voted down the cost concessions Boeing says it needs to build 777Xs there. Hence Boeing’s desire to find a new site to build the plane. And Charlotte most certainly isn’t alone in being invited to present a bid — unsurprisingly Boeing is having a big casting call for sites that might be its next assembly plant. And yes, there’s a very real chance that the RFPs are an attempt to get the machinists in Everett to come to terms.

CLT specific stuff: Charlotte has been asked to bid, but why exactly would CLT be a good site for an aircraft manufacturing plant? The short answer to the powers that be in the Queen City is because Jerry Orr said so. Yes, Charlotte Douglas International Airport meets the minimal requirements, but so do a lot of places. From the UPoR:

Charlotte could have some factors going for it: Undeveloped land around Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a new rail yard, access to a skilled manufacturing workforce. But the city and state would likely have to put up big incentive money to have a shot.

The new intermodal yard isn’t really an advantage to the Boeing bid. Rather a Boeing plant would have its own rail yard. The airport has undeveloped land, but it’s not necessarily well placed as it would be at a considerable distance from the airport’s runways, making for long taxi times. (The best spot is already taken — by the intermodal yard.) But that’s not the big problem. Charlotte is a major hub airport. With that comes the potential for delays, sometimes big delays. And that would most certainly be a significant concern to Boeing. Or put another way, it’s hard to imagine CLT winning against an otherwise equivalent bid from an airport that’s not as congested as CLT.

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