FARNBOROUGH, U.K. — Boeing does not plan to launch a new airplane for at least a couple of years. But it does have about 1,000 people in Everett working on the possibilities, said Stan Deal, chief executive of the Commercial Airplanes division.
In an interview with The Seattle Times on the opening day of the Farnborough Air Show, he outlined the state of Boeing’s global engineering resources — across the U.S. and in Moscow, Kyiv, Ukraine, and Bangalore, India — and how the Puget Sound region fits into his thinking.
He argued that Boeing Commercial can place engineering work elsewhere and still retain its center of gravity in the Seattle area.
He also explained that he wants his engineers back in the office again. And he insisted that, contrary to the doubts of critics, Boeing is working on its future.
Boeing’s future being developed in Everett
As Boeing comes through the pandemic and eventually does launch a new plane, Deal said the company’s engineering staff will grow and be more geographically diversified.
“But we’ll still have major developmental hubs like Puget Sound,” Deal said.
This region, he said, will retain “the bulk of our developmental engineering talent.”
He noted that his 1,000-strong product development team working on the next new airplane consists of “a cadre of advanced manufacturing people” as well as designers of the basic sizing and structure of the airplane and IT experts developing the digital tools that will be used to integrate the jet’s design and manufacturing plan.
As evidence of the centrality of this region to Boeing’s engineering future, he said that team works in the company’s Bomarc building in Everett.
“We always have engineers working on concepts of airplanes for the future,” Deal said. “I’m quite proud of this window we just went through, which was a trough like no other trough, and we still did that. None of that funding got stopped.”
In the conversation, Deal also revealed a harder line on allowing engineers to work remotely.
He made clear that at this point in the pandemic, he wants his engineers back in their offices, allowing only limited virtual or hybrid working patterns. And he’s ready to lose some people by moving in that direction.
He said working together and collaborating is essential for the company’s success. “What’s right for the business is to have a high degree of employee engagement back into work.”
“The ideal environment for me is … the majority of the time in the office,” he said. “It’s not to say every day, every week. We want to accommodate hybrid and we want to accommodate virtual. But those are on a limited basis.”
“Look, if there’s some attrition, there’ll be some attrition,” Deal added.
“But I don’t think I’m faced with abnormal attrition. We’re not having the attrition problem other companies are having.”
Geographic diversification continues
Even as he insisted on a future for his engineers in the Puget Sound region, Deal defended Boeing’s dispersal of engineering talent to other U.S. sites, including St. Louis; North Charleston, South Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; and Southern California, a process greatly accelerated about 10 years ago.
In St. Louis, Boeing is engineering the T-7 jet fighter trainer and the MQ-25 uncrewed refueling drone, defense programs with innovative design and manufacturing methods that it hopes to scale up for the next new commercial airplane.
In South Carolina, where Boeing makes parts of the 787 fuselage, future fuselage work is a focus of engineering.
Boeing’s engineering design center in Alabama works mostly on space programs, such as the Space Launch System.
Engineers in Southern California provide aftermarket support to airline customers.
Overseas, the long-established pattern of Boeing engineering work has been greatly disrupted by the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia.
Deal said work at the Moscow Design Center that housed about 1,300 engineers “is shrinking rapidly because we can’t export any work anymore.”
Employees remaining there are still being paid to perform “some nonspecific engineering work now, just wrapping up training manuals, things that fit within the U.S. sanctions,” said Deal.
He was more optimistic about prospects for Boeing’s Design Center in Kyiv.
The roughly 1,100 engineers who work there are dispersed by the war, with some having migrated to Poland for safety while others stayed behind.
Both those who stayed in Kyiv and those who fled to Poland are active.
“Those employees are working. We’re gonna maintain staffing there while we watch what unfolds in the Ukraine,” Deal said. “And once the Ukraine clears up from a conflict and a war perspective, then I think you can anticipate we’ll grow that center.”
“It’s a very talented group of engineers we developed over what has been about the past eight years since we opened that design center,” Deal added.
In part to make up for the loss of the engineering resources in Russia, Deal said Boeing is scaling up engineering in Bangalore and has around 2,000 engineers there.
“That provides multiple skills, not only in the design arena, but in our software arena,” he said, brimming with the optimism of a man who had just landed a big order from Delta.