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Turbulence between Boeing-Alabama Sen. Shelby could mean job loss

Boeing is feuding with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and the aerospace giant said it could cost jobs in Huntsville. (Source: WAFF) Boeing is feuding with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and the aerospace giant said it could cost jobs in Huntsville. (Source: WAFF)
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Boeing is feuding with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and the aerospace giant said it could cost jobs in Huntsville. Boeing wants a competitive playing field with Airbus and said Shelby is stalling that international process and the job loss could be just weeks away. Boeing said Airbus has three international lenders and they rely on one, the now-closed Ex-Im Bank. The company wants it re-opened.

This is our first look inside Boeing's future.

It's in its seven Jetplex and Gateway Composites Labs that just opened in the last year. Visioneers work here, dreaming up what materials they'll need to build Boeing's best jets.

"We look how we can tweak materials and try it out," said Robbie Harris, Boeing Composites Lab Manager.

Boeing's goal is to build faster, cheaper more energy efficient commercial jetliners with bigger passenger windows and comfier seats. It all starts with engineering brains, advanced materials, composite boards and cutting-edge autoclaves.

But Steve Swaine said Boeing can't continue to manufacture these jetliners, like its massive 787 Dreamliner, if it can't sell them. He said Shelby has basically grounded the company because international buyers can't borrow money from a common lender, the Export-Import Bank, because Shelby is not making a final appointment to the bank's board.

This has halted progress and sales. Swaine who is Boeing’s Director of  Research and Technology said, "We need Senator Shelby to get behind the EX-IM Bank, make the appointment and make the bank, fully operational."

Swaine said 70 percent of Boeing's commercial sales are to international customers. No sales means no jobs. 4,000 positions tied to commercial airplanes are on the line around the country and that includes Huntsville.  

"We are working every angle we can think of to avoid layoffs. We are looking at retirements, and taking into account voluntary reductions. We are looking at how we can do a better job operating more effectively in order to make our products continue to be high quality at lower cost. The EX-IM bank  is one of the things that we need in order to continue to provide a pipeline of revenue into our company to protect those jobs in the future,” said Swaine.

An aerospace future that Swaine said could hit rough air if Boeing's playing field with Airbus isn't leveled soon.

Shelby's office sent a statement Monday afternoon saying, "Senator Shelby fundamentally opposes the Export-Import Bank and believes his actions are in the best interest of the American taxpayer. Nearly 99 percent of all American exports are financed without the Ex-Im Bank, which demonstrates that the Bank is more about corporate welfare than advancing our economy".

Boeing provided this additional information regarding its need for a fully operational Ex-Im Bank for its international customers:

  • Last year, Boeing lost two satellite deals due to the customers’ inability to secure Ex-Im financing. Commercial airplane customer – Ethiopian Airways – indicated its intention to consider purchasing Airbus airplanes if Ex-Im remains inoperable. (More information here: WSJ Article)
  • The long-term absence of Ex-Im financing poses a real threat to America’s competitiveness and ability to grow manufacturing jobs. Boeing has billions of dollars in new commercial aircraft and satellite deliveries and future sales at stake in the coming years. As America’s single largest exporter, we are a company that sells most of our commercial airplane products and services to customers outside the United States, but produces those products right here, sustaining good paying American jobs.  The Senate and the House recognized those facts last year when they reauthorized Ex-Im by overwhelming margins. Yet, the bank remains closed for major export deals because of obstructionist tactics by a handful of bank opponents.

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