Boeing Ends Production Of B717

Driven out by high costs, global outsourcing and industry consolidation, commercial aircraft production ceased Tuesday in California with the delivery of the final two Boeing 717 jetliners to their airline owners.

Some 5,000 Boeing Co. workers witnessed the ceremony at Boeing's former McDonnell Douglas aircraft factory in Long Beach, marking the end of an era for the Golden State and the aircraft industry.

Boeing delivered the 717s to two airlines: AirTran Airways and Midwest Airlines, the largest 717 customers.

The only remaining large aircraft now being built in California are Boeing's C-17 military transports, whose production is expected to end in 2008 unless the Air Force orders more than the 180 aircraft it had programmed.

The final commercial aircraft deliveries came on the same day that industry sources reported that one of the last operators of McDonnell Douglas' Long Beach-built DC-10, Northwest Airlines, will retire the aircraft from its fleet by the end of the year.

California was once the center of worldwide aircraft production. The former McDonnell Douglas factory in Long Beach alone produced 15,599 aircraft since its opening in June 1941.

During the late '50s and '60s, Convair in San Diego, Douglas in Long Beach and Lockheed in Burbank and Palmdale produced hundreds of airliners ranging from Lockheed's elegant Constellation to Convair's swift 990.

The 717 was born as McDonnell Douglas' MD-95, the last permutation of its classic twin-engine DC-9. When Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997, the then-Seattle-based company quickly discontinued production of McDonnell Douglas' other commercial aircraft, the MD-11 and the MD-80, but kept the MD-95.

The aircraft, designed to service short- and medium-range routes, was never the success that Boeing and McDonnell Douglas had hoped. The two companies built just 156 examples of the jetliner over 11 years of production.

AirTran, the former ValuJet, rebuilt its reputation on the 717 after a crash in the Florida Everglades of an older ValuJet DC-9.

But even AirTran, Boeing's largest 717 customer with 87 of the planes in its fleet, moved on to Boeing's 737 when it needed new aircraft with coast-to-coast range.

Boeing has already bulldozed part of the aircraft factory where McDonnell Douglas designed and built jetliners, though the hangars where the final 717s were built aren't yet scheduled for demolition or reuse.

Boeing's real estate arm is remarketing parts of the former aircraft factory as the site for condominiums and offices.

From time to time, reports have surfaced that Boeing will use part of the Long Beach complex to build other aircraft.

The aerospace rumor mill in the late '90s reported Boeing wanted to open a second 737 production plant in Long Beach, but opposition from Seattle-based aircraft construction unions killed that idea.

Long Beach also has been rumored as the site for construction of Boeing's 767 aerial tanker, if the Air Force orders them. And recently, some local boosters have talked up Long Beach for a second Boeing 787 production line. Boeing hasn't commented on either rumor.

Global economics and politics have moved much aircraft production overseas. Europe's Airbus does final assembly of airliners in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

Airbus is reported to be considering opening an assembly line for its A320 jets in China. Embraer produces regional jetliners in Brazil, and Bombardier assembles small airliners in Montreal.

Boeing produces airliners in Everett and Seattle, though much of the subassembly work is now done overseas in Japan, Italy, China and Australia.

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