I’m not sure if most communities typically have enemies, but Mobile almost certainly does.
Yeah, I’m looking at you, Boeing.
The Chicago-based, Seattle-born airplane manufacturer has consistently and aggressively tried to pee in Mobile’s cornflake dreams of becoming a major player in the jet-building world. We had to fight them tooth-and-nail to land Airbus and now it seems we may go through the same type of wrestling match to see the Canadian company Bombardier’s C-Series passenger jet assembled here. It’s enough to drive you to drink tiny, airplane-sized bottles of booze.
If you’re someone who chooses Kardashians over aerospace industry news on a regular basis, you may have missed out on Boeing’s latest efforts to flex political muscle behind the scenes to screw its competitors, and by extension, once again, Mobile. To put it simply, Boeing has been working hard to keep the C-Series out of the United States — going so far as to file a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission when Delta agreed to purchase 50 of them.
Boeing has complained Canadian subsidies were used to make the planes cheaper, even though Boeing doesn’t really even have a competing jet. Just a little fly-by troublemaking, I suppose.
Boeing’s blood pressure went up even further after Bombardier and Airbus announced a deal to begin assembling those C-Series jets right here in America’s favorite MoonPie-crazy city. About a month ago the ITC ruled against Boeing’s complaints and also noted the company had not been damaged by Bombardier. Sounds like the game is over, but let’s not forget this is Boeing. These guys are so used to reaching into politicians’ pockets over the years to keep the stranglehold they’ve had on military aircraft production they don’t easily take “no” for an answer.
Aware of what probably lies ahead, Airbus Americas Chairman Emeritus Allan McArtor told reporters recently more challenges to the deal from U.S.-based manufacturers could be coming. If you’ve spent much time around Mobile over the past decade, that should probably give you chills.
Mobile’s history with Boeing is checkered to say the least. Back in the day (2003) we were all up on that stuff when Boeing started making overtures about putting its 787 production plant at Brookley. It’s hard not to remember the excitement. There were articles about how such a plant would transform our area and how it would mesh nicely with Boeing’s sizable presence in Huntsville. Then-Mayor Mike Dow even named his pet hamster “Boeing.” (My memory could be shaky on that last part.)
Of course it turned out all Boeing was doing was yanking our chain and using our luscious Brookley site, with its sexy runway and water access, as a way to make the unions in Washington state jealous and whip them back into shape. But it’s now hard not to look at that first interaction as an omen of things to come.
Next, of course, came the biggie slap in the face. Boeing had secured a contract to lease the next generation of refueling tankers to the Air Force, but it turned out that contract negotiation was so fraught with corruption, a couple of Boeing officials went to jail and the Air Force went back to the drawing board, this time poised to buy.
In 2008 Northrop Grumman and Airbus’ parent company, EADS, came together to make a run at the $35 billion contract and to build those tankers at Brookley. It was a knock-down, drag-out fight, but our team won.
We all gathered for the announcement. Champagne was flowing. People were dancing. A whole new future was right there in front of this community. But Boeing challenged the awarding of the contract, saying the evaluation had been “too subjective.”
Everyone felt pretty sure the selection team would make the same choice again, even after Northrop dropped out. Why wouldn’t they? But Boeing was the 800-pound gorilla in the aerospace industry and as such had deep pockets and lots of political allies. Three years later, the selection committee did a 180 and chose Boeing.
Throughout the fight, Mobile, in particular, was subjected to some pretty harsh insults from Boeing and its political stooges. One Boeing official, Gary Mears, was quoted as saying, “You’ve got all these sections coming into Mobile with people who’ve never seen them before. It’s like being in the living room on Christmas morning, surrounded by boxes and you’re trying to put a tricycle together for the first time. It adds risk, and the Air Force is going to look at that.” At least he didn’t compare us to monkeys trying to type Shakespeare.
And then Boeing-puppet Washington Sen. Patty Murray chimed in, while waxing poetic about watching her state’s workers build jets, said, “I would challenge anybody to tell me that they’ve stood on a line in Alabama and seen anybody building anything.”
Yeah, we even had to catch hell from one of the most unimportant members the U.S. Senate over the past 20 years. It was a rough time.
Of course the lucky consequence was Airbus becoming more familiar with the Brookley site and realizing that until the company was physically here in the States, it was going to be nearly impossible to compete with Boeing for certain things. So it was worth it to endure so much.
But at some point it has to stop.
Even as Boeing has been crushing it around the world, with massive sales to airlines from the Middle East leading the way and hundreds of billions in orders on the books, they still have time to screw around with poor ol’ Mobile. The company has challenged the very notion Bombardier’s plant will ever actually be built, as well as any job projections for assembling the C-Series.
At least when the fight was over $35 billion in tankers, you could understand the vitriol. In this case Boeing is trying to squash a slightly annoying pest and using an anvil to do it. Delta’s CEO even expressed confusion as to why they would go after the C-Series, noting it probably is made up of more “U.S. content” than Boeing’s 787.
I get that Boeing is probably still pissed Airbus is here, but were we just supposed to sit and wait at home on Saturday night forever? Time to get over it Boeing. Go take Patty Murray on a factory tour and leave us alone. Besides, we have all these tricky boxes and parts showing up. We’d rather concentrate on that.