Boeing will transfer another 1,000 engineering jobs from Washington state’s Puget Sound area to Southern California by the end of next year, the company told employees Thursday.
In the latest blow to the company’s Washington engineering workforce, most of the group that provides technical support to airlines flying Boeing jets will move to Seal Beach and Long Beach.
Even the operations center at Boeing Field, where a team is on call 24/7 to respond to any technical issue with a Boeing airplane anywhere in the world, will move to California.
There may be further job losses among administrative staff that support the engineers whose work is moving.
Affected employees, including many who have been working at Boeing for more than 20 years, will be offered relocation expenses to move to California, said Lynne Thompson, vice president of the customer support group.
“We want as many as possible to consider coming down” to California, Thompson said. “Other people will find work in other places, either inside of Boeing or outside.”
The move, which has been rumored for many months, is the latest and most significant in a series of engineering work transfers out of Washington state that began a year ago, soon after Boeing’s engineering union agreed to its current contract.
In an interview before the Thursday morning announcement, Mike Delaney, the head of engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, explained the decision by outlining distinct future engineering roles for Boeing’s design centers in Washington state, Southern California and South Carolina.
He said engineers in Washington will focus on developing new airplanes and building them efficiently, with the 777X project providing a new imperative of “transitioning to become a true world-class composite center for advanced manufacturing and design.”
Although support of Boeing’s airline customers is “a crown jewel” of the company, it’s distinct from the Puget Sound region’s central mission, he said.
“By having (customer support) in California, or having it outside the Puget Sound, we have an opportunity to have much greater focus and to attract and retain some of the best talent in California,” Delaney said.
Moving that work out, he said, will “declutter all the things we have to do up here.”
The engineers in the customer support group work to maintain aircraft that are already in service with airlines.
They write and update technical manuals and in-service bulletins. They address maintenance issues, consult on the need for spare parts and, if necessary, send out teams to fix technical problems.
Also, on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, they attest to the airworthiness of any modifications made to a jet.
The local group is currently about 1,600 engineering staff, the majority based in two office towers in Tukwila, with some in Everett and a small team at the Boeing Field operations center.
The engineers remaining in Washington for now will be those supporting the newest in-service jet, the 787 Dreamliner.
Sometime around 2015, the 787 support work is expected to be routine enough that it, too, will move down to California. The small group left will then focus on the next new planes, the 737 MAX and the 777X, Thompson said.
The recent drain of Boeing engineering jobs from Washington state comes amid boom times in the aviation business.
Last year saw record jet airliner orders and deliveries. Airplane production in Renton and Everett, already at all-time highs, is set to climb sharply.
And just in January, Boeing committed to build the 777X in Washington, an investment of between $7 billion and $10 billion.
That follows other recently launched new jet programs: the 737 MAX and the 787-10. In addition, the Air Force tanker is under development in Everett.
The company estimates that the 777X project alone, which won Boeing almost $9 billion in extended state tax breaks, will require a dedicated local team of 850 engineers.
That prospect means a growing need from 2018 forward for the engineers who design new planes.
Delaney said Boeing’s investments and its commitment to building new airplanes in Washington show that the company’s approach to the region “is clearly a growth strategy.”
He said that because Boeing has chosen to fabricate the composite wing of the 777X here, the company in the Puget Sound area is “at an inflection point.”
The real significance of that 777X win, he said, was not the assembly of the airplane but the increased scope of future engineering, because the methods of fabricating a composite wing so intimately affect how the wing is designed.
In the future, Delaney said, “we’ll fundamentally do research and development around wing fabrication here in Puget Sound.”
He said North Charleston, S.C., will focus on composite fuselage technology.
And Southern California gets the aftermarket work.
Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, reacted angrily on hearing the news of the work transfer as it was announced internally.
“SPEEA specifically warned (Washington) Gov. (Jay) Inslee that his legislation was crafted with loopholes that would allow Boeing to take the $9 billion and outsource jobs anyway,” Goforth said in an email. “Why doesn’t the governor call a special session to close the loopholes and save these jobs?”