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Boeing Live Event Coverage

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 7, 2012 at 5:32 PM

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Washington State woos the aerospace world at the Farnborough Air Show

The Airbus decision announced last week to locate an airplane assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., was widely viewed as bad news for Boeing. Yet Gov Chris Gregoire believes it could be good for Washington state.

In a hotel just across the road from Buckingham Palace (at right below, my photo), Gregoire spoke in an interview Saturday night, ahead of the opening of the Farnborough Air Show.Rubens hotel.jpg

She'll have a private meeting with Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney while she's here at the Show. But she's also here to woo Airbus and also Canadian jetmaker Bombardier.

Arriving from dinner with the Canadian High Commissioner to the U.K. -- Gordon Campbell, former premier of British Columbia and a personal friend of Gregoire's -- she joined some of the delegates talking to a journalist in the hotel bar while a pianist tinkled in the background.

Gregoire's two bodyguards sat at a discreet distance, wires snaking behind their ears into their jackets, a reminder that the Palace is not the only place in town housing a head of state, with the inescapable security protocol that entails.

Gregoire was bullish about aerospace, and about Washington's premier place in the industry as a global supplier of aerospace parts and engineering -- not merely a one-company state.

Airbus bought $200 million worth of aerospace parts and equipment from Washington state companies last year.

"That pales in comparison to what it can be," said Gregoire. "The only way to go is up."

On this trip, before arriving in London, her 40-person delegation of supplier representatives and state agency officials has already visited the Bombardier wing factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the Airbus wing factory in Broughton, Wales.

She recounted the "real sense of pride" she felt in walking through the Airbus A380 wing plant -- "breathtaking" -- and seeing the logo of Electroimpact of Mukilteo on most of the giant automated drilling machine systems.

Alex Pietsch, the new executive director of Gregoire's aerospace office, said it was striking how the tooling designed and built by Electroimpact provided "the skeleton" of large parts of the wing plant.

Gregoire said both Bombardier and Airbus were positive about working with Washington companies.

Stephen Cowan, general manager of the Bombardier supply chain, mentioned that he has already worked with Electroimpact, and also with another high-end engineering firm from Washington: Janicki Industries of Sedro-Woolley.

"No one has to convince me to do business in Washington State," Gregoire quoted Cowan as telling his guests. "We want to do a whole lot more."

One delegate, Ron Jacobsen, corporate projects manager with Globe Machine, came on the trip to pitch his company's proprietary technology for curing carbon fiber composites rapidly and without an expensive high-pressure oven.

Globe Machine employs about 170 people and has a manufacturing plant on the Tacoma waterfront. It started out making machinery for the timber industry, but has evolved into other sectors, including the auto industry and aerospace.

Another Washington state company executive on the trip is Liz Lasater, CEO of Red Arrow, a small logistics company based in Issaquah that organizes transportation of freight within the U.S. and abroad.

Lasater said she'll propose creating a supplier hub for Bombardier in North America. And she thinks Airbus will need trucking support for its Mobile supply chain that she can provide.

Pietsch said that as Airbus sets up the Mobile supply chain, many Washington state suppliers may find a way in.

Airbus' decision "will mean good things to us down the line," said Pietsch. "There will be business opportunities for Washington state that come out of Alabama."

Gregoire added that she's talked over with Boeing executives her wooing of Airbus business and they've told her they are fine with the idea. Boeing's attitude is that it will strengthen its suppliers, she said.

Gregoire said she first met with Airbus and Bombardier last year at the Paris Air Show and that this year the relationship is noticeably better, with less skepticism from Airbus that Washington wants its business.

When she meets Boeing's McNerney, Gregoire intends to press for his latest thinking on the 777X, a new version of the big twin-jet Boeing is considering that may have a composite wing.

Clearly, Boeing will remain the state's largest aerospace player by far. Gregoire wants all of that 777X project in Washington, of course.

Pietsch said looking at the logistics of building and transporting big wings was part of the reason for choosing to visit Belfast and Broughton.

Near the end of her term, this is Gregoire's final Air Show as Governor.

"I hope my successor doesn't miss a beat and understands that this is a top priority for this state," she said. "You've got to go to the Paris Air Show. You've got to go to Farnborough."

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