By Peter Pae Los Angeles Times
Boeing Co. said Friday that it had resumed early steps toward shutting down the production line for its C-17 Air Force transport plane in Long Beach, Calif., because of a lack of new orders. In a repeat of last summer, Boeing said it had begun telling suppliers to stop producing parts for the C-17, the last of which would roll out of the Long Beach factory in mid-2009, unless further orders were placed for the four-engine jet. It takes about 34 months from the production of the first part to final assembly. Although the Air Force did not request additional C-17s, Congress allocated US$2.1 billion for the purchase of 10 planes last fall to extend the life of the factory by a year. Boeing has built 161 C-17s for the Air Force and has 29 more on the books. Under a previous multiyear contract, Boeing was scheduled to produce the last C-17 in 2008. But the program is likely to get another reprieve, much as it did last fall, because of strong congressional support, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace research firm. “Congress might have to increase here and there, but it can be done,” he said. “There is a very strong chance that there will be another dozen added this year.” About 5,500 people work at the C-17 plant and an additional 25,000 for 700 companies in 42 states that supply parts for the aircraft. Shutdown of the program would bring to a close almost a century of airplane manufacturing in southern California. Boeing said it could begin workforce cuts next year. The plane has been in production since the early 1990s. Since Boeing began making the plane in 1995, the program has been one of Boeing’s its largest, generating about US$3 billion in annual sales. Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, has about 31,000 employees in Southern California.