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Originally published May 16, 2011 at 7:32 PM | Page modified May 17, 2011 at 3:21 PM

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Boeing will add 1,200 workers in Renton over two years

After years of shrinking its facilities in Renton, Boeing is hiring at its plant and preparing to build there again in anticipation of booming production lines for its workhorse 737 jet.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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After years of shrinking its facilities in Renton, Boeing is hiring at its plant and preparing to build there again in anticipation of booming production lines for its workhorse 737 jet.

The plant's work force will swell by around 1,200 people by 2013 to enable two planned hikes in output, said Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier.

Boeing told employees Monday it will build a 75,000-square-foot extension to a current building at the site. The space will be used to warehouse and process seats, galleys and lavatories for the narrow-body jets.

The company is also refurbishing an old paint hangar to complement the single paint hangar now in use.

"We're very pleased Boeing is making investments in the Renton plant," said Alex Pietsch, administrator at Renton's Department of Community & Economic Development. "In the 10 years I've been here, our relationship with Boeing is as strong as it's ever been. We look forward to more good times ahead."

Boeing plans to assemble jets in Renton ever more rapidly into the middle of the decade, increasing production of the 737 by at least 21 percent.

The jets now roll out at a rate just above one per day, or 31.5 a month. That's to rise to 35 a month by January, and to 38 in spring 2013.

Seats, galleys and lavatories, which are customized for different airlines and come from a variety of vendors, are now delivered straight to the line and positioned beside the airplanes. But the planned uptick in the work rhythm will put a premium on space beside the line.

Extending the building "is really about making our footprint more efficient," said Boeing spokeswoman Kristi Moen.

In the first half of the last decade, Boeing used lean manufacturing principles to condense its Renton facilities.

Excess land at the south end of Lake Washington was sold off, and stores, restaurants, apartments and a cinema now sit on former Boeing property. Workers at the plant worried Boeing's days in Renton were numbered.

Outlook good for Renton

Today, though, 737 production, including a military anti-submarine version of the jet for the Navy, looks set to continue for many years.

Even as Boeing considers a replacement jet that will eventually supplant the 737, the executive heading that project, Mike Bair, said in March there is a "high likelihood" that 737 production will continue for some time even after the new plane is introduced.

Because so many airlines fly the 737 and won't want to switch immediately to a new plane, Bair said the older jet could have a "fairly large overlap" with any new one.

Backing up that position, last year Boeing signed a 20-year lease with Renton for use of the municipal airport beside its plant.

"There's a hard commitment that keeps them here at least through 2030," said Pietsch. "And there's two (optional) 10-year extensions beyond that."

The latest Boeing employment filings with the state show that the company employed almost 10,500 people in Renton at the beginning of 2010.

The 737 plant employs between 9,000 and 10,000 of those, with the rest at other facilities, including the Longacres commercial-airplanes headquarters.

Number of new hires unknown

Boeing's Verdier said some of the additional 1,200 workers will transfer from other Boeing sites. The proportion that will be new hires is still unclear, she said, because planning for the rate increases is still under way.

"We'll bring them in in groups as we need them, so that they can become familiar with how we work," said Verdier. "We want to minimize the impact on production of bringing on new people."

Joe Campbell, an industry analyst with Barclays Capital, said in a note to clients Monday that a shortage of aircraft — due to continued growth in emerging markets and a five-year backlog of orders — will increase pressure on Boeing to raise its output further.

In Europe, Boeing's rival Airbus plans even bigger increases for its A320 family of jets, which is cranking out planes at a pace of 40 per month.

In a teleconference last week, Hans Peter Ring, chief financial officer of Airbus parent company EADS, said the company is set to announce an increase within days and will likely go to 42 per month, and perhaps 44.

In the next five years, both Renton and Toulouse, France — home of Airbus — are set to reap the benefits of this aviation surge.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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