HAZELWOOD, Mo. (KMOX) – As the Royal Australian Air Force took delivery of the first of 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler fighter jets on Wednesday, the manager of the Growler project was speaking optimistically about the future of the Hazelwood production line.
Based on current orders, the line is currently scheduled to run through 2017, but program director Dan Gillian says based on possible future sales, he’s making plans to keep the line running through the end of the decade.
He says those plans include ordering parts future production.
“We’re making decisions to procure that material to continue production based on the strong demand signals we’re seeing,” Gillian says.
Gillian says those “demand signals” include the Congress debating the U.S. Navy’s inclusion of 12 Growlers on its unfunded priorities list and potential interest from Denmark, Canada, Belgium and middle-eastern countries.
“Discussions are ongoing in the middle east along with domestic. We see strong signals domestically and internationally that allow us to continue moving forward with building airplanes,” he says.
Meanwhile, Gillian says production on the Hazelwood line is being reduced, so if new orders come in the line can speed up, instead of starting over.
“We made a decision, working with the Navy, to slow production from three a month down to two a month. We’re in the process of doing that today. That’ll happen through the rest of the year. That production at two a month is our forecasted rate going forward and we see being able to hold that for some time into the future.”
He says the slow-down means fewer employees will be needed on the line, but Gillian says they will be shifted to other projects, including the 777-X, so no layoffs will be necessary.
Some 2,000 employees work on the Growler and F-18 programs at the Hazelwood plant. The programs employ 60,000 people across 44 states and 800 suppliers.
Our earlier story:
Boeing’s Hazelwood plant in north St. Louis is celebrating this morning as the company delivers the first of a dozen advanced electronic attack aircraft called, Growlers, to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
Australia becomes the first country outside the U.S. to receive the EA-18G and it’s purchase is helping keep the production line in St. Louis open for another two years.
Boeing described the Growler as a derivative of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G is the only aircraft in production providing tactical jamming and electronic protection. The Growlers enhance the RAAF’s current fleet – which includes 24 Super Hornets – and advance ‘Plan Jericho,’ an initiative to transform the RAAF into an integrated, networked force able to deliver air power in all operating environments.
The Growler will fly to Naval Air Station China Lake in California for flight testing and then Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington, where RAAF operators will continue training with U.S. Navy pilots to gain expertise in the highly technical electronic warfare mission. The RAAF is expected to take delivery of the aircraft in 2017.
The ceremony comes as Boeing is slowing production so the line can continue operating in case more orders come in. There is an expected Kuwaiti purchase of 28 jets that would keep the line open through 2019. More orders could come from Canada, Denmark and the U.S. Navy.
In March, program manager Dan Gillian, said the company would need to make a decision on whether to keep the line open by the middle of this year. We hope to get an update on that decision today.
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