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Analyst: Japan a Strong Contender for Boeing 777x Wing

Ashley Gross

State and local leaders have promised Boeing expedited permitting to build its next 777 wide-body jet, as well as the plane’s carbon-fiber wing, in Washington. Still, the Puget Sound region faces competition for wing assembly not only from elsewhere in the U.S., but also from Japan.

Competition from South Carolina as well as recent layoffs by Boeing in the Puget Sound region have left many workers feeling insecure. Landing the 777x assembly line in Washington would be a tremendous boost.

Analyst Richard Aboulafia says he can’t really imagine Boeing building the plane anywhere but here. Still, the wing is a different story.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries builds the 787 carbon-fiber wing, and Japan is a critical market for Boeing. Aboulafia says it’s not that the Japanese government would order a Japanese airline to buy Boeing planes if Mitsubishi gets the wing contract, but sometimes these are unspoken understandings.  

"Japan is probably the last place in the world where you have these very close links between people who build planes and people who buy them. So you never really know," Aboulafia said. "It could be that JAL and ANA might have the freedom to look elsewhere—towards Airbus—in the event that Japan was denied a major subcontract in the aircraft."

Boeing may also want to offload some of the financial risk of development to a Japanese manufacturer.

But there are some other factors in favor of building it here. The wing may be too large to fit in Boeing’s special cargo plane called the Dreamlifter, and transporting it by ship may be too risky.

Plus, Aboulafia says, Boeing may want to bring wing development back in-house so that it doesn’t lose the technical capability. Boeing hasn’t said yet when it will launch the plane, though the company is talking with customers about it now. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.