My two colleagues from China were in Seattle for the weekend, and wanted to go on a Boeing factory tour. Let’s go! I said, since I had not done that either. The factory is actually in Everett, 40 minutes north of Seattle. (There is another factory that produces 737s in Renton closer to Seattle, and some 787 work is done in North Charleston in South Carolina). The tour starts with a short film, and then we were taken into two of the cavernous construction hangars, one for the 747 and 777 and another for the new 787 Dreamliner. We entered by the utilities tunnel and then go directly up with the freight elevator to the third floor where we look down on the floor.
The factory is very, very, very large, by volume the largest in the world. The 777 is assembled with a crawling assembly line, until the plane is in its weight-on-wheels (WoW) configuration; then it is tugged along and outside the building to be painted. In contrast, the 787 is assembled in one place, with its major sections flown in from all over the world (wings from Japan, center fuselage from Italy, landing-gear system from France, main cabin lighting from Germany main cabin lighting, among others).
Some 6 million parts go into a modern airplane. That is counting each little rivet as a part, though. Since the fuselage expands under pressurization, it cannot have welds. I was also reminded that the wings are actually gigantic fuel tanks (I will try to forget that again by the time I fly on Monday!) and that the skin of the fuselage is no thicker than that of a dime (yikes). We could actually check a section of fuselage out up close and it is shocking how thin the skin is.
So! .. while we’re all very proud of Boeing and its manufacturing prowess, being a fierce international competitor and providing some 30,000 jobs to local communities around Washington State, does it make for a good corporate citizen? The Center For Effective Government reported in 2014 that Boeing Company’s 2013 tax filings noted that it had claimed $82 million in federal tax refunds, despite $5.9 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits for the 2013 tax year. ‘This represents an effective tax rate of -1.4 percent. Boeing paid just $11 million in state income taxes, an effective state tax rate of just 0.2 percent’. Fantastic for the shareholders, but the company makes almost no contribution to the Washington State coffers for the use of its infrastructure, and pays no Federal income taxes in spite of being the second largest federal contractor in the United States.
As for the machine workers that pop all those rivets, they should start learning to program and maintain the robots that are on the way to take over the work from them. This video is from Boeing’s web site itself, here.