Boeing Co. announced this month that it will end production of its C-17 Globemaster III military cargo jet and close the final assembly plant in Long Beach, Calif., in 2015, putting as many as 3,000 jobs at risk as orders plunge.
“Our customers around the world face very tough budget environments,” Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in a statement. “While the desire for the C-17’s capabilities is high, budgets cannot support additional purchases in the timing required to keep the production line open.”
The massive, four-engine C-17 is used to airlift tanks, supplies, and troops as well as perform medical evacuations. A war and disaster workhorse, the C-17 is prized for its ability to operate from basic airstrips and cover intercontinental distances with a full load without refueling.
Last week, the Long Beach plant delivered the last of 223 C-17s produced for the U.S. Air Force. Nan Bouchard, Boeing vice president and C-17 program manager, said the company will complete 22 final aircraft: seven for the Indian Air Force, two for an international customer that she declined to name, and 13 that have not yet been sold.
“Despite strong international interest, we did not receive sufficient orders” to continue production, she said.
Military officials took delivery of the final C-17 during a ceremony attended by hundreds of workers at the Long Beach assembly plant. After the ceremony, the C-17 took off, en route to Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina—recreating the same flight the first production model took for its delivery in July 1993. As the crowd on the ground cheered, the giant aircraft looped around and performed a low flyover before heading into the clouds.
Rachid Ali, a Boeing avionics inspector who has worked with C-17s for a dozen years, recounted the plane’s service in Bosnia and Afghanistan. The U.S. military regularly used C-17s outfitted as mobile hospitals to evacuate wounded personnel during the Iraq War.
“It’s an awesome airplane,” Ali said. “Capability, reliability, it’s above and beyond. The first 50 are still flying. After 25 years, you can refurbish them and they’re as good as new. It’s going to be in the air for years to come.”
With a payload of 160,000 pounds, the plane is designed to airdrop 102 paratroopers and their equipment.
Design work on the plane began at the million-plus square-foot Long Beach facility in 1981, when it was a McDonnell Douglas facility. Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas in the 1990s. Boeing has so far delivered 257 planes worldwide, at a cost of about $311 million each, including research, development, and construction costs.
Although Boeing will begin reducing the C-17 workforce in 2014, the company will make efforts to provide jobs elsewhere with the company and has plans to continue a repair and spare parts program for the planes through 2017.