The Boeing Company’s sprawling rotorcraft complex in suburban Philadelphia, the largest industrial employer in the region, is facing a big decline in demand because its two key programs are poised to lose funding from military customers.
With 4,600 workers, the headquarters of Boeing Vertical is one of the last vestiges of heavy industry in an area that has seen a steady decline in its manufacturing fortunes. The plant spends over $500 million annually purchasing parts and services from 473 suppliers in the Keystone State, but its future as a local economic driver is very much in question.
On the one hand, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, for which the plant has built fuselages over the last 20 years, appears to be approaching the end of its production run. The company’s head of global marketing warned prospective customers last year that “we’re pretty close to wrapping up our programs of record.” Work on V-22 will likely decline rapidly after 2023.
On the other hand, a “Block II” upgrade of the Army’s workhorse CH-47 Chinook helicopter that Boeing workers had expected would keep the plant humming for the next 20 years is getting the cold shoulder from Army leaders. They want to focus aviation investments on two new rotorcraft and forego efforts to restore payload capacity to the Army’s heaviest lifter.
Boeing (a contributor to my think tank) is competing to build one of those new Army rotorcraft, and has hopes of finding new international customers for both Osprey and Chinook, but the outlook for the Philly plant is uncertain at best, and therein lies a curious political tale. (end of excerpt)
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