Port mulls Boeing aircraft bid

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald A 787 Dreamliner sits outside the Boeing Test Facility at Grant County International Airport.

MOSES LAKE — As Boeing considers a replacement for the aging 757 jetliner, the Port of Moses Lake is considering a bid to be the place where Boeing builds its new jet, the New Midsize Airplane (NMA).

According to Port Executive Director Jeffrey Bishop, the port has the ability to create a complete proposal in-house to build the aircraft here. The Port has long contemplated a facility to build small or medium-sized passenger jets.

“No one is certain what Boeing will be looking for in the NMA,” Bishop told port commissioners Monday morning.

Bishop said competing to get that contract would be something of a long shot, since Boeing likely has excess capacity left over in its existing Everett facilities from the production of the 757 itself, which ended in 2004, or as production of newer models of the 787 Dreamliner move to Boeing production facilities in South Carolina.

“It’s always difficult to compete with fully depreciated assets,” Bishop said.

However, Boeing already tests and certifies aircraft at the Grant County International Airport, and there is plenty of space to build a new facility.

“Boeing knows where we are,” Bishop said.

While Boeing ceased making the mid-sized 757 in 2004, the company concluded in 2015 that there is a significant market for planes capable of carrying 225-275 passengers 6,500-7,500 miles.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last week endorsed construction of the new plane — should it be built — in Washington.

“From the 737 to the 787 Dreamliner, we are proud that Boeing’s roots are in Washington,” Inslee said. “We believe we have all the ingredients necessary to bring the NMA to market quickly and profitably, thanks to our expert workforce and our century-long legacy of building aircraft of exceptional quality.”

The Port of Moses Lake has long had plans simmering for an aircraft construction facility across from the current Boeing hangars, and is looking at what Bishop said would be an aircraft assembly line similar to the one Mitsubishi has in Nagoya for the MRJ.

The Port would even extend rail service into the proposed facility, to make it easier to ship in plane parts, including fuselages.

“That’s the focal point of the proposal,” Bishop said.

The facility would have to be built first, however.

Even if Boeing makes a decision to go ahead with the NMA — already dubbed by some the 797 — it would take at least a decade to go from design to flight if everything went smoothly.

“It’s a 10-year process if you begin with a clean sheet, no design work done yet,” Bishop said. “It takes an incredibly long time to design an aircraft.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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