SEATTLE — Though Boeing is gearing up for two demanding commercial jet, flight-test programs next year, it plans to lay off 200 to 300 people out of more than 4,000 working flight tests in the Puget Sound region.
Boeing also is undergoing a major restructuring that will combine its military and commercial flight-test organizations by year end.
When the flight-test programs for the new version of the 747-8 jumbo jet and the all-new 787 Dreamliner begin early next year, only one will be conducted in Seattle. The Dreamliner testing will be based at Boeing Field in Seattle.
The 747-8 will undergo initial airworthiness tests at Moses Lake in eastern Washington for about two months then go to Palmdale, Calif., for the remainder of the flight tests on the runway shared by Edwards Air Force Base.
Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Hawton said the layoffs, all within the commercial-airplane unit, are part of the overall reduction of 4,500 announced early this year. She said the jobs eliminated will be "overhead, support and administrative functions" and will not include pilots or engineers working directly on airplanes.
"It won't impact the flight-test programs or delay the flight tests," Hawton said.
Hawton said the consolidation of the military and commercial flight-test organizations is not a factor in the layoffs. The new combined flight-test unit will be called Boeing Test and Evaluation.
Frank Santoni, chief test pilot at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said that using military pilots to fly civilian jets and commercial pilots on the defense side has been happening for some years.
He said commercial pilots have helped out flying military jets that are derivatives of commercial airliners — such as the Navy's P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine plane based on the 737 airliner, or the Italian and Japanese tankers based on the 767.
Cross-training of military pilots to fly airliners is useful to the company, "so that when we have surges, like we'll have next year, we can have more resources available," he said.
The commercial-airplane flight-test organization supplies pilots not just for flight tests of new planes but also for routine test and delivery flights of each production aircraft that rolls out the factory doors.
Santoni said the consolidation will allow Boeing "to be more nimble and effective in how we use the pilot talent."
The simultaneous flight-test programs due next year of the 787 and 747-8 will be the first major concurrent flight-test programs since those of the 767 and 757 in 1982.
Industry analysts consider the Dreamliner flight testing in particular to be a tight schedule. The plane is supposed to have first flight by year-end and to complete its flight tests a year later.