Pandemic Ponderings #1: Boeing Flies Through the Storm

Boeing is seeking all $60 billion it requested for the aerospace industry despite saying the company didn’t need a bailout to survive. Boeing stock rose.

Source: Boeing Stock Rises As $60 BIllion Aerospace Industry Bailout Still Eyed | Investor’s Business Daily

I am going to start a series of posts that are a bit off-topic for this forum, but that I feel are appropriate given the times: Pandemic Ponderings, a series of thoughts about COVID-19 and the changes it is wreaking upon the world even as we face up to the beast.

I want to start by talking about Boeing, partly because I have admired the company for five decades, but mostly because it represents all that is right – and all that is wrong – with American companies today.

It is difficult to overstate the critical role Boeing plays in the economy and in the national defense, so I find it hard to begrudge the company its share of the Great COVID Corporate Welfare package. That charity is limited: too much of what ails the company today is self-inflicted. So while I will, at some point, deliver some tough love to Boeing leadership for the execrable way it has been managed, for now, a nod and a high-five.

And a thought.

Coming out of this pandemic, a wide swath of the population will now be accustomed to using virtual presence. People who might never have tried services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom before are now using them daily. Once you turn a tool into a habit, the habit brings an accompanying change of behavior. It is hard not to foresee companies cutting back on business travel, using the rising quality and falling cost of virtual presence as partial justification.

And let’s be honest – how many of us who engage in regular business travel will mourn? The prospect of spending long hours sealed in a pressurized aluminum tube filled with uncomfortable seats and countless germs, manned by indifferent crews and flown through increasingly turbulent skies (thank you, climate change), all dappled with the overhanging fears of terrorism cannot but fill one with unalloyed dread.

I could be wrong: air travel may not be the industrial equivalent of a 737-MAX on autopilot (sorry, I know, low blow.) But Boeing’s most prominent customers must be staying awake nights wondering if they are going to run out of sky, or if they need to start changing the way they fly.

An Airfield Twixt Past and Future 


Pausing for lunch on a cold, windy day at the former George Air Force Base, this beautifully restored F-4C is my sole companion.

The base is a glorified industrial park attached to a parking lot for cast-off jetliners, an example of the “peace dividends” of dubious value that so many California communities have reaped since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It does not take much of a sense of history to wonder, however, whether the dawn of the second Cold War might fortell a quickening in the future of this high-desert airbase.

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Ode to a California Airline

Twenty years from now, when my grandchildren ask me what it was like to fly on Virgin America, I will show them this video.

Virgin America will join PSA, AirCal, and Western Airlines as a piece of California aviation history when they are absorbed into Alaska Airlines.

Goodbye, all, and thank you for some of the best economy class experiences I have had in a lifetime of flying.

Friday at the Videos: Remembering When LA Airport Was in Glendale

Los Angeles airport was not always alongside the dunes in Westchester. Back when LAX was still a seaside bean field, Grand Central Terminal a few miles north of Downtown L.A. was where passengers landed in the Southland.

This three part video series tells the story of how Glendale was the cradle of commercial aviation and aerospace in Southern California. The series is a delight for both airplane buffs and history fans.

The Bigger Boeing Long Beach Story

Boeing is leaving Long Beach, and California is no longer in the business of manufacturing aircraft as it has done for over a century. It is the end of an era, and this video offers a glimpse at what was the final hope for the airframe assembly business in California.

One point of note in the video is that the reporter actually reached out to Governor Jerry Brown’s office to see if they were talking to Boeing about keeping an assembly facility open in Long Beach, but the office was gently evasive. If that has you scratching your head, that is because this reporter did not tell the whole story. Boeing still has around 18,000 employees in the state, a far cry from the heights of the Cold War, but still one of California’s largest employers.

All of this points to a larger fact. While aircraft are no longer flying out of factories in California, there is a large and thriving aerospace industry here still. According to A.T. Kearny, 203,000 direct jobs and 511,000 indirect jobs can be attributed to the aerospace industry in California, more than Hollywood and agriculture combined. The industry is a lot harder to see, but it is still there, even as airplane factories across the Southland fall under the wrecking ball.