RENTON, Wash. – Boeing on Tuesday announced it will be adding hundreds of new jobs, but not thousands as it prepares to ramp up 737 production at its Renton plant.
The company says it plans to increase production from 31.5 planes per month to 38 per month by 2013. That number could reach 40 per month. If Airlines stopped ordering 737s today, Boeing would have over 2,100 737s left to build. But the orders keep pouring in.
In Renton, there are three assembly lines, all building 737s. Line No. 1 can build up to 21 airliners per month. Line No. 2 is now running about 11.5 planes per month and will be modified to produce 21. A third production line is dedicated to the U.S. Navy's P-8A anti-submarine maritime patrol aircraft.
Theoretically, the company says despite slimming down its land footprint in Renton by more than 30 percent in the last decade, there's still enough land and capacity to build as many as 63 jets per month. Vice president and 737 General Manager Beverly Wyse says she doesn't envision that happening. Unlike the boom and bust cycles of decades past, stability is the goal.
On the assembly lines that creep along at a speed that's like watching a minute hand on a clock, workers are getting ready for when that clock speeds up.
"What we do is simulate the higher rate by putting a lot of blanks down the line." said John Hamilton, Boeing's chief project engineer on the 737. Hamilton is talking to the airlines about what they want in the future to keep airlines coming back. Do they want a 737 with even more efficient engines?
"We're not getting an overwhelming message that says go put a big new engine on this airplane," said Hamilton.
How about a completely new jet?
"The airlines are wrestling with this decision just like we are," he said.
What to do in the meantime, before there's a decision? If there is a decision? The 737s basic design dates back to the mid 1960s, but this isn't your grandfather's 737.
New improvements on the plane are constant with more coming soon, little things that cut drag and should improve fuel efficiency by say, another two percent.
Does that sound small to you?
"Two percent is worth about a million dollars," said Hamilton, referring to fuel savings over time.