Boeing starting to shut big C-17 plant


LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Boeing Co. said yesterday that it was taking the first steps toward closing its sprawling C-17 assembly plant in Long Beach, a shutdown that is expected to be completed by the middle of 2009 unless significant new orders are placed for the giant military transport aircraft.

Closing the plant, which employs about 5,500 workers, will deprive Long Beach of its largest civilian employer and will deal an economic blow to hundreds of subcontractors in Southern California and around the nation that supply parts for the C-17.

It also will bring to a close almost a century of airplane manufacturing in Southern California - once a pillar of the state's economy.

Boeing broke the news yesterday morning to workers in Long Beach and began notifying suppliers to stop producing parts for the C-17 because the U.S. government doesn't plan to order any more of the planes.

The notice is the first step in Boeing's plan to end production of the cargo planes. Boeing has delivered 154 of the 180 C-17s ordered by the Air Force and needs orders for at least 10 more jets to keep the line open beyond mid-2009, program manager Ronald C. Marcotte said in a conference call.

W. James McNerney Jr., Boeing's chief executive, is following through on a pledge made in late 2005 to shut a plant in Long Beach, Calif., and stop buying parts at Boeing's expense to support production of C-17s that had yet to be ordered. The planes provide $3.2 billion in annual revenue for Boeing.

"We are talking about tens of millions of dollars - at minimum - that we've spent to supply parts for unordered aircraft to keep the line open," Marcotte said. "We can't build aircraft, then look for a buyer."

Boeing has 7,300 workers involved in producing the C-17, with 5,500 in Long Beach. Another 1,000 workers are in St. Louis, 600 in Macon, Ga., and 200 in Mesa, Ariz. Macon employees would be the first to be affected by the gradual shutdown.

The cargo plane provides more than 25,000 jobs nationwide, including suppliers.

Boeing, the No. 2 defense contractor, has been saying for several months that unless the Air Force orders additional C-17s, the Long Beach plant probably would be closed. To date, the Pentagon hasn't ordered more of the planes despite entreaties from local, state and federal officials.

Because of the long lead time needed to secure parts from subcontractors, Boeing has said it needed to decide by mid-August whether to begin the process of shutting down the plant, even though fulfilling existing C-17 orders will take another three years.

The C-17, known as the Globemaster III, is used to carry troops and cargo to trouble spots around the globe and was used to ferry food and other supplies to the Gulf Coast last year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Air Force originally ordered 222 planes, but that was scaled back to 180.

Martin Zimmerman writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times reporter Ronald D. White and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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