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Wednesday, May 18, 2022




Staff Reporter

After World War II, the construction of airplanes, both commercial and military, helped drive the growth of Los Angeles, giving many war veterans their first jobs jobs that in some cases lasted them until their retirement.

But within five years, that part of the industry airplane construction will have shrunk to the point where it will be just a small part of the overall aerospace industry. And the change is most evident at aerospace giant Boeing Co.’s L.A. plants.

While the largest of Boeing’s commercial airplane lines are now coming to a close, and will be completely shut down by the end of 2000, its space business both at its rocket-engine facility in Canoga Park and its space vehicle centers in Downey and Palmdale is growing.

That growth is being fueled by the swelling demand for commercial communications satellites used for such things as the sending of computer data and transmitting video feeds from television networks to their affiliates. The increase in consumers using direct-to-home satellite TV services has also driven growth in communications satellites.

So is the decline in aircraft construction and the increase in space work good or bad for L.A.?

In short, both. In the years following World War II, aircraft construction provided high-paying, reliable jobs for workers who were not highly educated. Today, assembly jobs still are valuable to those without advanced skills but they are much less reliable, given the cutbacks in U.S. defense spending and the fluctuations in the commercial aircraft market in Asia and elsewhere.

Jobs in the space sector require more skills and education a problem in the L.A. area, where the Los Angeles Unified School District has been heavily criticized for not preparing students for such work. However, the jobs are more reliable than aircraft assembly jobs and space-sector workers tend to be paid better.

Good or bad, the change is happening particularly at Boeing. In the next two years, the company will do away with its MD-80, MD-90 and MD-11 production lines at the former Douglas Aircraft facility in Long Beach.

Those aircraft were inherited from McDonnell Douglas when the company was acquired by Boeing last year. Not only were the McDonnell planes considered competitors to Boeing’s planes, the customer base for the McDonnell models had dropped over the years. Both those factors figured prominently in their cancellation.

Combined, the three MD-series programs employ about 6,000 workers in Long Beach. Assembly of all three planes is expected to end by the end of 2000. An overwhelming majority of workers on the two lines are expected to be laid off.

“We are not quantifying it yet,” said Boeing spokesman John Thom. “We don’t know how many people can move to other work. We’re looking for other types of work to have here at the facility. We’re not going to try to quantify the net effects just yet.”

After the MD-series programs come to a close, the only remaining commercial plane that will be produced in Long Beach is the fledgling 717, a short-hop 100-seater. The 717 line currently employs about 1,800 workers, but that could grow to 2,500 if demand for the plane picks up.

Although Trans World Airlines Inc. and Bavaria International Aircraft Leasing Co. have each placed 50 firm orders for the plane, analysts question whether significant demand for a 100-seat plane actually exists. (Boeing pegs demand at 2,000 over the next 20 years.) Furthermore, Boeing faces potential competition from European consortium Airbus Industrie, which is developing its own 100-seater, the A318.

But despite the layoffs that will result from the cancellation of the MD-series, and the question mark that hangs over the 717, analysts say Boeing’s L.A. presence remains strong in other areas.

One plane is expected to continue to be assembled here for at least the next several years: Boeing’s C-17 military transport. About 8,000 workers in Long Beach assemble that plane, and it remains popular with the federal government.

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