November 26, 2012
With the heightened political sensitivities during the presidential campaign season, it was fairly predictable that an invitation from Boeing to some of its suppliers to attend a workshop on aerospace manufacturing in Mexico would set off a rhubarb among the various stakeholders. Boeing is not affiliated with either U.S. political party, and the invite had no partisan implications.
But Boeing is a political hot button in itself, and both political parties know that. What voters need to know is that there has been low-level aerospace manufacturing in Mexico for a long time, and placing work there is no different than the offsets in other countries, where Boeing has spread its 787 program, in particular, all over the map. It does this for competitive reasons, and so does Airbus. By sharing the work with customer nations, Boeing “offsets” some of the cost to its customers when they buy its airplanes. Japan has been a loyal Boeing customer since World War II, and its heavy industries build the wings, the center wing box and parts of the fuselage for the 787, while its airlines, Japan Air Lines and All Nippon, were the first to order the airplane and put it into service, with the first JAL flight from Tokyo to Boston last April.
Mexico is a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and has been manufacturing parts for U.S. automobiles as well as assembling VWs (and soon, Audis) along with Isuzus for domestic consumption.
Cessna Aircraft, a division of Textron, operates a facility in Chihuahua that makes sheet metal assemblies and wire harnesses for Citation jets. MD Helicopters, owned by Patriarch Partners, a New York holding company, uses parts made by another Patriarch company in Mexico.
Boeing has a long history of testy labor relations, and the unions that represent some of its workers are strident in opposing any work share that’s not performed by their members. But the heavy final-assembly work at Boeing is, has been, will be located in the United States for some time to come.
November 13, 2012
There was a time when a trip of more than 300 miles had you reaching for the Official Airline Guide (remember those?) for the winged alternative to driving, but times have changed. The high fares and the hassle of airline travel have conspired to move more folks onto the roads and out of the airways.
How do I know this? I don’t. But I drive a lot in my travels, and I see a lot of license plates from faraway places. I’ve also noticed that traffic moves along at about 75 to 80 mph on roads that are posted for speeds that would have had my mom screaming for my father to slow down. And it’s amazing how fast you cover ground on the Interstates.
Having been through the air-travel crunch one too many times, including nights on airport floors when they cancel flights and there are no hotel vouchers (or hotel rooms), I’m now an inveterate driver.
Look at the advantages of driving: You get to take along as much as your car can hold — and there’s no additional fee. You can even pack a nice lunch to savor at a rest stop along the highway. Instead of high anxiety and stress during security check-ins, you’re cocooned in a capsule served by a high-end stereo and all your favorite music. If you’re like me, you look at what you’ve saved in air fares and spend it instead on an overnight stop at a hotel (I’m partial to Hampton Inns and their free breakfast). And you get to see the country–which is absolutely beautiful–close up.
Mind you, if I absolutely, positively had to be there for something on the West Coast, I’d swallow hard and buy a ticket, but a trip of 1,000 miles on the road is no longer out of the question.
November 2, 2012
People in the airplane sales business try to dress for success, same as anyone. But the formula has changed over the years. Back in the days of multibillion-dollar airliner deals involving Boeing, Douglas, Lockheed, Convair and others — before deregulation, during the golden age of air-travel glamour — the costume was hand-tailored business suit, preferably a nice dark blue pinstripe, and wingtips (those are shoes, for those who’ve never seen a pair–you can Google them). A rule of thumb in those days was that the price of a really top-quality suit closely tracked the market price of an ounce of gold.
The folks who sell to airlines haven’t changed clothes, even though the airline business is almost unrecognizable compared to what it was back in its heyday. At Paris and Farnborough, the boys from Boeing and Airbus are still wrapped in Saville Row as they schmooze clients. At the next level down — high-priced executive jets and even mid- to economy-priced GA airplanes — fashion has changed markedly since the ‘70s. Back then, a general aviation salesman from Wichita, Kansas who hoped to make an impression might dip a toe in the water of mod styling. You could spot the guy from the marketing department a mile off by the glare from his white patent leather belt and matching shoes. Hairstyles matched the longer, coiffed look of the times, with fuller sideburns and more exuberant cuts that draped just over the ears. Trousers were flared but not bell-bottom, and contrasting sport coats were a light color or bold pattern, with a pocket hankie to match the primary-color trousers. (Some “looks” should stay in the era from which they came. The leisure suit should not, by law, be allowed to survive except in museum collections and photos of the quaint old 1970s. It is the swastika of men’s fashion.)
That was kind of fun and adequate for selling airplanes with propellers to doctors and oilmen. But when the GA factories started building jets, the sales department went straight for that Wall Street look – the full Corporate Uniform.
Now we’re undergoing yet another, more subtle shift. Blame it on Silicon Valley, where nobody ever wears a tie knotted four-in-hand, but the business-jet crowd is showing the first signs of shedding the banker look. In some recent advertisements, manufacturers (of airplanes with a price so high one must not speak its name) are depicting their executives tieless. The big issue becomes whether to leave just one shirt button open, or go radical and liberate two [music from Born Free here]. If the Google guys and that Facebook billionaire can run around in tee shirts aboard their Boeings, surely airplane people – who are just as high-tech as you are, dammit!! – can drop the ties.
But don’t lose the dark navy-blue blazers. Please. That would be going too far.