By Wm. Scott Magill
Since Boeing’s 2016 announcement that Boeing F/A-18s might be built in India, St. Louis’s Boeing production facility has faced a job uncertainty typically unseen for American defense manufacturers. Even through the Recession and the Sequester, U.S. defense contractors were seen as a stalwart bastion of American manufacturing that provided long term job security for employees producing critical components and services for America’s armed forces and those of our allies. But now, Boeing’s forays into foreign markets seem to put that future is at risk.
Though F/A-18 production in India would only make fighters for that country at first, it might eventually expand to supply other nations as well. Currently, St. Louis is the only production facility where Super Hornets are assembled, but an Indian competitor – with shared technical knowledge and common suppliers – could easily surpass St. Louis’ position and supply globally to America’s defense partners.
What further hurts St. Louis’ workforce is an ongoing dispute with Bombardier over commercial aircraft dumping and countervailing duty regulations. Boeing’s allegations that Bombardier has unfairly priced their CSeries aircraft threaten the future of Canadian defense contracts for replacement Super Hornets for CF-18 aircraft. This could jeopardize business opportunities with a government more than willing to weigh all of the options when it comes to fighter replacement programs.
It is a fight that is frankly unnecessary. As reported, the case is very weak because they are complaining about a plane that they simply don’t compete with.
During the Delta bid in question, the airline sought new aircraft, and Boeing could only promise used out of production aircraft. According to Delta, “the 737-700 is not a 100 to 110-seat aircraft.” Delta’s decision to contract with Bombardier makes complete sense and validates the fact that Boeing did not have a new aircraft to offer in the class. Instead of licking their wounds and moving on, Boeing has joined the fray in a spate of US-Canadian trade disputes, but without concrete evidence and a strong case, their involvement only threatens future Canadian purchases of Boeing aircraft – both commercial and defense, as well as the future of American jobs in places like St. Louis.
For as committed to American products as Boeing claims to be, their recent international actions paint a different picture. Beyond the decision to move F/A-18 production and technologies to India for that market, Boeing has also decided to produce commercial aircraft in China in an attempt to further expand into that market. Even the aircraft class Boeing claims Bombardier is competing with, the 737 – a much larger and longer range model than the out of production 717, will soon be built in China as well.
Though Boeing claims its case against Bombardier is to protect American products and American jobs, the facts tell a different story. Today it is St. Louis’ defense workers that are getting a raw deal, but tomorrow it might be Everett. It’s time to think of their American workers first.