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PostTransportation: AVIATION: A FLIGHT TO REMEMBER: the Airbus (John Eipper, USA, 05/10/05 1:54 pm)
Christopher Jones writes: Randy Black should be more careful when he writes about the glories of Boeing and US industry.? As this very telling article points out, the crucial wing design of the Airbus is the pride of British Aerospace.? I really would like to know why Randy Black continues to send false informations about American prowess.? : The Boeing company has now become so hollowed out that its next plane, the super-advanced 787, will be more a Japanese product than an American one.
"Boeing: Flying Into a Mountain" by Eamonn Fingleton.? For the full text, see
also at http://www.jpri.org/members/BoeingFingleton.pdf
This article, by Eamonn Fingleton, was first published in the American Conservative (!/31/05). First of two parts.
Here is an excerpt:
One evening a generation ago, several up-and-coming aerospace executives gathered to commune with the Boeing aircraft company's chief executive Thornton Wilson. The discussion turned to Boeing's vaunted expertise in making aircraft wings. Wilson evidently came across as boastful--so much so that a young General Electric executive named Harry Stonecipher suggested that Boeing was arrogant. "And rightly so," came Wilson's serene reply.? The exchange, which was recorded in Fortune magazine a few years ago, is worth recalling partly for what has happened to Stonecipher in the meantime--and partly for what has happened to Boeing.
In a remarkable twist of fate, Stonecipher now fills Wilson's old job at Boeing. But whereas the Boeing that Wilson led in the 1970s utterly dominated the skies, today's Boeing is another matter. Its once masterful technological leadership is gone and, in an orgy of indiscriminate outsourcing, Stonecipher is presiding over the destruction of what remains of Boeing's erstwhile manufacturing greatness--not least the world-beating wing business that was the apple of Wilson's eye.
As the American press has latterly come to realize, Boeing is an embattled company. But while the media has focused on a defense contracting scandal that has recently engulfed the company, this is a tempest in a teacup compared to the real story: the unpublicized tragedy of Boeing's rapidly declining competitiveness. After decades of short-sighted management, Boeing has become so hollowed out that the impact is clearly visible in America's rapidly worsening trade deficits. Indeed, respected experts fear Boeing is already so enfeebled
that it may be forced to exit its core business in commercial airliners within a decade. This in turn would undermine its defense business, with distinctly ominous implications for America's long-term security. Just how important that business is can be judged from the fact that, after decades of industry consolidation, the Boeing group now takes in most of the contractors that executed the Apollo moon project.
Part of the problem is that Airbus, a puny also-ran in Wilson's time, has recently leapfrogged to global leadership in airliner sales. But a larger part is a sea change in Boeing's concept of itself. In a philosophical metamorphosis
whose significance has been lost on the American press, Boeing is now pleased to call itself a "systems integrator." An unfortunate echo of the New Economy bubble, this self-description effectively reduces America's most Olympian manufacturer to the level of a thousand catch-as-catch-can software consultancies. Boeing's top management has presided over one of the most lamentable downsizing programs in American corporate history. Not only has the Boeing group cut 100,000 jobs in the last seven years, but it has more or less throttled its research and development department. All this while spending $10 billion to "enhance shareholder value" in a buy-back of one-sixth of its outstanding stock.
The key to the new Boeing is a Faustian bargain with Japan. In a rerun of earlier American industrial implosions, Boeing has come to rely more and more on Japanese contractors for its most advanced engineering and manufacturing.? Heavily subsidized by the Tokyo government, Boeing's Japanese partners are delighted to lowball their contract prices and spend heavily on the sort of advanced research and development that in happier times Boeing would have eagerly--indeed jealously--reserved for itself.? More of the 7E7, Boeing's major new plane due for launch in 2008, will probably be built in Japan than in the United States. As Pritchard and MacPherson point out, a particularly telling indicator of Boeing's decline is that the Japanese will make the wings for the 7E7. Not only that, Boeing has been prevailed on to transfer its wing-making know-how to a Japanese-government-sponsored consortium.
Perhaps the best indicator of the challenges involved in making airliner wings is that, apart from the United States, only one nation, Britain, boasts a serious record in the field. British Aerospace's wing-making capability is one of Britain's few remaining world-class manufacturing businesses. Its technology in turn has been a key driver of the success of Airbus, which is backed by the governments of France, Germany, Spain, and, of course, Britain.
Wing-making is one of the most advanced sub-sectors of one of the world's most advanced manufacturing industries. But since the United States has been in general retreat from advanced manufacturing for three decades, why should we care what happens to what remains of America's manufacturing heritage?