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Train wreck could derail Boeing’s Renton 737 plans

July 8, 2014, Renton, Wa. - Despite the loss of six Boeing 737 fuselages from a July 3 train derailment in Montana, Boeing’s Renton assembly plant continued to run full bore on Monday.


July 8, 2014
By Puget Sound Business Journal

The only questions are whether the plant will be able to maintain its
production rate if the fuselage supply runs low, and how much overtime
Machinists will have to work to keep the plant pumping out aircraft at
the current rate of two a day, said Les Mullen, president of Local A Machinists District Lodge 751, and a union veteran of aircraft production.

 

“No matter which way this has to go, our people are going to be the ones to bail this out and get the work done,” he said.

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Whether or not Boeing can keep the 737 line on schedule is a more
complex issue than it might seem at first. Each aircraft is put together
from parts arriving on a precise, just-in-time schedule from around the
world, including the fuselages arriving from Wichita, Kansas.
Maintaining the flow of parts and assemblies is extremely intricate. In
addition, the production rate for Boeing’s 737 line is now 42 monthly,
the highest rate Boeing has ever seen for commercial aircraft.

 

For the company, it’s like balancing on a high wire while sprinting.

 

Chicago-based Boeing Co. declined to respond to questions
Monday about the potential effect of the accident on 737 production,
issuing only a brief statement.

 

“Once we have completed our assessment of damages and determined our
next course of action, we will decide what to do with the fuselages,”
said the statement, in part.

 

Mullen, who was in a previously scheduled meeting with presidents of
other Machinists locals on Monday, said nether he nor his colleagues had
heard from Boeing about how the company plans to get enough fuselages
to maintain the current production rate.

“Whether they slow stuff down, or what they do, they’re still trying to figure out the best way to handle this,” Mullen said.

 

He speculated that one approach might be for Boeing
to send out some AOG “Aircraft on Ground” teams, which usually are
dispatched to crash sites, to do any needed repairs in order to get the
fuselages back into the production flow.

 

The teams could even do the work in temporary tents on the Renton site, he said.

 

“We send them all over the world, to do repairs on aircraft that have
been delivered,” he said. “We may get to use some of those people on an
airplane yet to be completed.”

 

Machinists already are working high levels of mandatory overtime,
some of them 10 or 12 hours a day, so Boeing may have to get volunteers
to do work above the contract limits.

 

“Boeing can’t force people to work more than that,” he said.