With its extra-large windows and dynamic lighting, several of Boeing’s much-hyped 787 Dreamliners had just begun flying passengers when the planes were grounded in January due to fires onboard.
Despite the grounding, Boeing continues to manufacture planes, one of several aviation companies that are expanding production and lifting the manufacturing sector.
“The fact is, Boeing is shipping new products,” said Daniel Meckstroth, the chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, a public policy and economics research organization. “They’ve had problems with the 787 but production is still going. They haven’t shut down the production lines yet and they can only make one airplane a month anyway.”
While Boeing will eventually have to curtail work if it can’t get the planes flying again, the company has a backlog of seven years worth of orders to fill.
Its major customers include United, now the largest airline in the world, and American, soon to be strengthened by a merger with US Air. Boeing is also refurbishing older plans with new technologies it has pioneered.
An increase in air traffic and shipments of new commercial aircraft are expected to bolster the aviation industry into the future.
“It looks like a really good year,” said Meckstroth. “A really good next several years, actually.”
A recent report by the Federal Reserve showed that steel, automobile and machinery manufacturing companies in the Midwest have plans to hire new employees and expand operations in the near future. Further airplane orders are expected to contribute to the ongoing growth in manufacturing.
The expansion is already being felt on the local level. John Hayes, owner of B. Loehr Staffing in St. Louis, Mo., staffs many of the manufacturing jobs in the area and said that he has seen an uptick in the number of jobs available.
He said that business has improved since late 2008 and throughout 2009, which was so slow “it was like the world had gone silent for most manufacturers.”
“We are seeing some increases,” Hayes said, “but I think we’re seeing a lot of caution out there.”
Hayes is concerned the growth is only temporary. “Is this a sustainable increase or a blip in the meter?”
Jobs in machinery, engine assembly and other production jobs are getting close to pre-recession employment levels, according to a study conducted by jobs board website CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists, a data processing company.
The study showed that jobs in engine and other machine assemblers, a necessity in airplane construction, increased 13 percent from 2010 to 2012, bouncing back from a 16 percent decline from 2007 to 2009.
“On CareerBuilder, we continue to see manufacturing jobs trend up year-over-year,” Jennifer Grasz, a communications executive of CareerBuilder, said in an email.
While the outlook is optimistic, Boeing has still struggled to get their stock of ailing 787 Dreamliners off the ground. If problems continue, the manufacturing sector could take a hit.
There are already possible signs Boeing is in trouble. On Monday, Lion Air of Indonesia, which has been the world’s largest customer of Boeing’s 737, placed an order with Airbus, Boeing’s competitor, in a $24 billion deal. Lion Air ordered the Airbus A320 model, which is a direct rival of the 737.
How much trouble would Boeing get into if the grounded planes turned into halt in production?
“It depends on how big the hit is. If you go to the extreme and there’s a cease of production there could be over 1,000 people unemployed at once,” said Millan L.B. Mulraine, the director of commodities research at TD Securities.
Spirit AeroSystems, an airplane manufacturer, builds parts of the 787 Dreamliner’s fuselage and cockpit. Kevin Evans, a spokesman for Spirit, said that throughout Boeing’s problems this year, orders and shipments for the 787 components have not been adjusted and are moving forward as planned.
“Our production schedule has never changed,” Evans said.
If there were to be changes, or if Boeing halted production completely, Evans said that Spirit is prepared to accommodate it. As a company that manufacturers for a number of airlines, Spirit could divert resources and employees to other projects in the event of a disruption in product orders.
Meanwhile, Boeing’s grounded planes remain on the tarmac, awaiting a green light from authorities so test flights can begin.
“We would like to see the planes back in the air as soon as possible,” Evans said.