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Boeing Is Expected to Ax MD-11 Jetliner

Aerospace: Word could come today, imperiling 3,000 jobs in Long Beach.

June 03, 1998|KAREN KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Boeing Co. is planning to announce as early as today that it will end production of the MD-11 jetliner, putting about 3,000 jobs at the aerospace giant's Long Beach production facility in peril, according to a source familiar with the plans.

Seattle-based Boeing took over production of the MD-11 from McDonnell Douglas last year after the two companies merged in a $13.3-billion deal. Since then, the future of the poor-selling tri-engine jet, which can be configured to carry either passengers or freight, has been in doubt.

Boeing Chief Executive Phil Condit has said repeatedly that the company would continue to produce the MD-11 only if it could attract orders. Federal Express, which ordered three MD-11 freighters in April, is the only company to buy any of the planes so far this year.

Boeing spokeswoman Janice Hayes said Tuesday that the company would not comment on any decisions regarding the MD-11.

"The No. 1 priority for the Boeing Co. is to inform our employees first on issues of this nature," she said. "Beyond that we can't comment."

Word of the probable announcement reached Sacramento on Tuesday. Gov. Pete Wilson's press secretary, Sean Walsh, said Wilson had not discussed the development with Boeing executives. But concern was high, given that thousands of well-paying jobs are at risk.

"They have notified us of their intention to scale back the MD-11 program," Walsh said late Tuesday, "and have indicated a strong desire to work with the state on other Boeing projects in an effort to ensure that few, if any, jobs are lost at the Long Beach facility."

Last month, Boeing said it had a tentative plan to transfer some of the production work for its workhorse 737 jetliner to Long Beach. Such a move would bring thousands of jobs to the Douglas plant, but the company has not committed to it yet.

While the MD-11's future has looked bleak for some time, few observers expected Boeing to cancel the program so soon. Boeing customers last year ordered 22 MD-11s.

Boeing is planning to produce the planes at the rate of one a month through the end of the year. The planes sell for $129 million to $144 million each.

With the capacity to seat 250 to 410 passengers, the MD-11 overlaps with several of Boeing's more popular models, including the 767 and 777. Boeing has sold seven 767s and 26 of the 777s this year.

Some of the work lost at Boeing's Douglas Products Division in Long Beach may be offset by production of the new 717, a 100-seat aircraft originally developed by McDonnell Douglas as the MD-95. AirTran Airlines has ordered 50 of the planes, and the company has said it expects more orders to follow.

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Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this report.

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