The infamous roll out of the 787 at Everett, 8 July 2007: Wikipedia Commons

The Herald, the local newspaper at Everett, where Boeing builds the 787 Dreamliners, the 777s and the 747-8s, has reported on a painful reality about the tunnel vision of the great planemaker’s management.

Boeing is sacking the engineers it needs to turn all the huffle puffle about the double stretched 787-10 Dreamliner and a new family of even higher tech 777s into real jets for which major airlines including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Qatar are clamoring.

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It’s a very disturbing read for those who want to see new, and greener, airliners get built.

The Herald isn’t editorialising. It is reporting from a memo to employees written by Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Roughly 100 manufacturing engineering employees in the Puget Sound region will receive 60-day notices on Friday, Delaney wrote. The company already has let go 700 contract workers since October. Boeing will reach the 1,500 to 1,700 reduction through a combination of attrition and layoffs.

The company is reducing engineering employment for two reasons. First, non-recurring development work on the 787-8, 787-9 and KC-46A tanker has been completed, Delaney wrote.

Secondly, “potential development programs for the 787-10X and 777X, which might have provided opportunities to avoid these layoffs, have not been formally approved and launched,” Delaney wrote.

Delaney called the prospect for future development work “very positive” but said the work for the yet-to-be-launched 787-10 and 777X was “too far out” for the company to maintain the current engineering employment level.

The underlying issue that arises from these sackings is the same one that has at times also caused serious talent problems for Airbus, and dogs many enterprises that need engineers.

That is, once fired, the talent might well not come back, and training or recruiting replacements is not an easy or instantaneous nor inexpensive process.

The peculiar reality that escapes company managers in situations like this is that when you bankrupt families, destroy lives, cause marriages to fail, and drive people away their localities in search of work, they don’t necessarily want to come back, or have anything to do with you anymore.

And if Boeing doesn’t convincingly, and resourcefully, get on with the longer term projects that airliners are ready to order now someone else, and maybe not even Airbus, will do it for them.

This is about a lesson too many companies, and too many airlines, ignore. Your people are valuable. And when they become somebody else’s people, their true worth can cost you everything.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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