The 570 employees at the former McDonnell Douglas aircraft component assembly plant in northwest Salt Lake City will have to keep waiting - maybe for the rest of this year - before learning their fate under the facility's new owner, Seattle-based Boeing.
"We're in the process of looking at all of the operations and facilities of the new and bigger Boeing Co.," David Brown, director of state and government relations, told the Deseret News Wednesday."There will be decisions made over the next few months as to where we can place work most effectively, and those decisions aren't in place yet and won't be for awhile. There's no way we can speculate on what may be going on or what changes will be made."
After Boeing acquired St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas last summer for $16 bil-lion, ostensibly for its defense and space business, the fate of the relatively small Salt Lake operation, which makes components that are assembled into aircraft in Long Beach, Calif., was called into ques-tion.
But things really looked grim for the local plant last November when Boeing announced it would stop producing the MD-80 and MD-90 twin-jet airliners by mid-1999, when current orders are filled. The two planes lost out to Boeing's own and very popular 737 short-haul airliner.
Boeing said at the time that work allocations for all of its plants in 27 states, including the newly acquired Salt Lake fa-cil-ity, would be made by January 1998. That didn't happen and Don Hanson, manager of media relations for Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, says don't look for it any time soon, perhaps not until the end of the year.
"But we know there is good work going on there in Salt Lake," said Hanson, noting that Boeing's top executives visited the plant last fall following the merger.
On Capitol Hill, Utah legislators have put more than $700,000 into the state's industrial development assistance fund with the goal of offering some of it to Boeing if it chooses to expand, rather than close down, the local plant.
Brown noted that McDonnell Douglas took advantage of the fund when the plant was opened and it was paid back. He commended the Legislature "for being dedicated and selective in getting jobs to Utah," which the fund is designed to do, but noted the fund is precluded from being earmarked for specific companies.
Meanwhile, Wednesday, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group president Ron Woodard said in a media teleconference that overtime is down, parts shortages are easing and production is set to increase as the company works to unsnarl its assembly line problems that have caused delays in aircraft deliveries.
"Factory operations are, in general, getting back on track," said Woodard.
Last fall, the company halted assembly lines for 747 jumbo jets and the new-generation 737s for a month due to shortages in parts and raw materials and productivity declines in its work force.