Last week, The Boeing Company announced its decision to move its headquarters from Seattle, Wash., to Chicago, Ill. The company's decision comes as part of a series of changes designed to establish a
May 13, 2001
|About the Author ...
Rick Durden is a
practicing aviation attorney who holds an ATP Certificate, with a type rating
in the Cessna Citation, and Commercial privileges for gliders, free balloons
and single-engine seaplanes. He is also an instrument and multi-engine flight
instructor. Rick started flying when he was fifteen and became a flight
instructor during his freshman year of college. He did a little of everything
in aviation to help pay for college and law school including flight
instruction, aerial application, and hauling freight. In the process of trying
to fly every old and interesting airplane he could, Rick has accumulated over
5,400 hours of flying time. In his law practice Rick regularly represents
pilots, fixed base operators, overhaulers, and manufacturers. Prior to
starting his private practice, he was an attorney for Cessna in Wichita for
seven years. He is a regular contributor to Aviation Consumer and AOPA Pilot
and teaches aerobatics in a 7KCAB Citabria in his spare time. Rick makes it
clear he is part owner of a corporation which owns a Piper Aztec, because,
having flown virtually every type of piston-engine airplane Cessna
manufactured from 1933 on, as well as all the turboprops and some of the jets,
he cannot bring himself to admit to actually owning a Piper.
Dear Boeing Senior Management:
I was in Chicago when the news came that you had
made the decision to move your offices there from Seattle. Having lived in
Chicago, I thought I'd drop you a note because your decision concerns me and I
think there are some things you might not know.
I've been proud of Boeing ever since I can
remember. As a kid crazy about airplanes, Boeing was "aviation" and it was
"America." No other company or country in the world came close to what Boeing
was. Relatives had commanded Boeing airplanes in wartime and frequent
travelers in the family told me that they only rode on Boeing airliners as
they were the best. Later, my military and airline pilot friends said things
such as "if it ain't Boeing, I ain't going."
I was proud that Boeing had made almost heroic
decisions in developing airplanes that had been in the forefront of aviation:
the DWCs that circled the world in the 1920s, the B-15 of the late 1930s and
the B-17 and B-29 shortly thereafter, and then the swept-wing, four-engine
jets. Lockheed didn't have your nerve or foresight; it tried a half step into
the jet age with the Electra and fell fatally behind in the airline market,
almost reviving itself with the technically superb L-1011 Tristar, but never
quite coming back.
Douglas had owned the piston airline market until
you had the guts to make the leap to pure jets with the 707. Douglas fought
back with the DC-8, but bankrupted themselves, and then merged with and played
second banana to the radically different corporate culture of McDonnell,
creating a company so internally confused that its airplanes never were close
to your offerings. The Diesel-9 series (even when marketing called it the MD)
was always a step or two behind the 737 and McDonnell-Douglas' attempt at a
widebody, the DC-10, out of the blocks years after your 747 and Lockheed's
Tristar, was almost criminally bad. They were only able to sell the DC-10
because marketing can sometimes obscure facts — it took the lives of many
passengers and crew before it was a usable airplane. The MD-11? What more can
be said? Comedians use that poor excuse for an airplane as a
You have decided to develop the sonic cruiser,
another bold choice in which you recalled your successful history of selling
speed. I'm confident you can do it; Cessna is already selling a jet that
cruises long distances at .92 Mach — all you have to do is scale it
You were the best. No one could touch you. But,
somehow, you started making strange decisions every once in a while. Did
management get too far removed from reality? It seemed to begin with the
competition from the Airbus series. When that upstart appeared I expected old,
cool Boeing to simply blow the Airbus out of the sky. But you didn't. You
started slipping. You had a period when you couldn't seem to make airplanes
fast enough to meet the orders you had accepted. You acquired
McDonnell-Douglas and insulted us when you had the gall to reuse one of your
proud 700 series jetliner numbers, affixing 717 to that mediocre DC-9-90
series machine. The 717 was always your name for the magnificent flying
tanker, the KC-135, because it was distinctly different from the 707. Then you
alienated the core of why you had been so successful over the years, your
engineers. They struck.
Who had heard of such a thing? You tried to diversify into "e-commerce," but
it was a disaster. I couldn't help but think that top management had moved too
far away from what the company did well, building airplanes.
Because of the communication problems you had
because you were in Seattle and some of your facilities were in other cities,
you made the decision to move. Your first announcement of the move indicated
that you weren't seriously doing your homework and were then going to make the
final location decision in a hasty, superficial manner. Your selection of the
three finalists was nutty to start with: Denver has had its day, it couldn't
control its growth in any rational fashion and is fast becoming a poster child
for gridlock and smog. Meanwhile, Dallas is a thriving architectural slum and
the major multinationals that used to call Chicago home have gotten out (did
anyone at HQ think to talk with folks such as Amoco or Sears and get an
explanation why they fled the city? Good grief, Sears built the tallest
building in the world in Chicago and even they moved to a
Well, last week it came out that you are going to
move to Chicago. The City of Chicago and the State of Illinois agreed to pay
some $61 million in cash, tax credits and other inducements to get the 500 or
so of you to move to the City of Broad Shoulders.
You will soon discover it isn't enough.
Sure Dallas only offered $25 million, and you
looked at the numbers. But, you looked at them in the short term, something
that seems to be symptomatic of the decisions you folks seem to be making
lately. Did anyone happen to look at the staggeringly high level of corruption
in Chicago city government? Where other U.S. cities are running surpluses,
Chicago keeps increasing its city taxes and fees because of the kickbacks,
payoffs and scams. Your employees will rapidly discover that every city
construction project costs about 30 percent more than in other places because
the contracts only go to Mayor Daley's pals, whether they are low bidder or
not. You'll find that 20 inches of concrete for an expressway is really 15
inches, but you'll get to pay for 20 inches.
Well, whether you did your homework or not, you're
committed to the move. And because I still have tremendous affection for
Boeing, I'll give you a few hints to help you make the adjustment.
You chose office space just west of the Loop, and
the city is paying a million bucks to buy out the lease of the current
tenants. (Don't worry, the city will get it back.) When it's time for you to
drive to O'Hare airport figure on about an hour and a half, a little less on
good days. Figure on about an hour to Midway. When you ask how long it takes
to get somewhere in Chicago, be prepared for the most common answer, "about an
hour." It's usually correct. But, you're cool; you are getting a heliport. Did
you happen to notice that the exact site of the heliport wasn't decided in the
agreement you reached with the city? You really should have nailed that
particular point down. Hizzoner Da Mayor (it's okay, that's not disrespectful,
it's the traditional pronunciation in Chicago, just as you are noticing that
your company is now pronounced "Boing") and his father, the late Richard J.
Daley, never allowed heliports for corporate operators in downtown Chicago.
After you move in, as you try to get that heliport built, you'll discover that
the city official you are dealing with will have misplaced the paperwork or
have been transferred or doesn't know anything about it. So, before you move,
if you really want a heliport, get it built.
In the interim, there is an outstanding airport a
10-to-15-minute taxi ride from your office. It's called Meigs Field. It has a
decent runway, a pretty good instrument approach and several helipads. I
noticed that several of your employees flew in to Meigs on Thursday,
announcement day. It is extremely convenient to downtown, isn't it? Well, your
new friend, Da Mayor, is going to close it next spring. He's going to add to
the thousands of acres of parkland along the lakefront. The conversion of the
airport into a scenic bit of botanical park almost identical to one in a
largely African-American section of the lakefront is being done so that white
people can have one, too (but this one will be maintained a little better).
It's roughly a $5 million project. However, Da Mayor has decided it will cost
$39 million and he will be letting the contracts to his buddies in the
construction business. It doesn't matter to him that Meigs is a convenient hub
for flying to the downtown airports at some of the cities you need to visit
such as Kansas City, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis or Omaha. It
doesn't matter to him that O'Hare and Midway will become even more crowded.
It's just the way business works in Chicago. So, get that heliport quickly.
You're going to need it so that you can rapidly get to one of the remaining
Chicago airports, even if those are even more crowded.
You'll probably live in the suburbs, that's fine;
you planned well as your offices are right close to the two biggest commuter
train stations and the commuter train service is excellent. If you like blues
music, you've come to the right place; even New Orleans can't match the music
in Chicago. The downside is that the music doesn't really get cooking until
about 11:30 or so at night, and the commuter trains quit running at midnight.
Have a good limo company on call. You don't want to drive drunk on Chicago's
expressways, the cops may not get you, but the mopes will. And, hey; Chicago
ain't Seattle — keep some spare cash in your shoe and always have at least
$20 for the mugger.
Oh, yes, this is important: Don't complain about
Meigs being closed down. The major corporations in the city who did that
rapidly discovered the power of the Daley administration: Suddenly nothing
worked. They couldn't get any needed permits, city documents, anything. They
were quietly told that any contracts they had with the city would be
cancelled. When they shut up about Meigs, the system started working again.
Pretty amazing, huh?
By the way, about the term "Windy City" ... did
your intensive research reveal that the nickname does not refer to the
weather? It came from the fight Chicago had with New York City over who was to
host the Columbian Exposition of 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of
Columbus showing up on this side of the Atlantic. Chicago politicians made a
bunch of promises about how they could put it on perfectly. The New York
papers referred to Chicago politicians as "windy" because the term then meant
a braggart who could not deliver on his promises. Chicago got the nod for the
1892 Columbian Exposition. It did manage to put on a tremendous event. It even
influenced our national culture (the term "Midway" still used in carnivals
comes from it). However, they put it on a full year late. The Exposition
didn't occur until 1893.
Chicago weather isn't any windier than many other
U.S. cities. Its politicians still are.
Because you decided to move to a great
transportation hub, I'll close with what happened as I was leaving on Friday
the 11th. I could have airlined into Midway or O'Hare, but because it was
cheaper and more convenient, I flew myself into Meigs Field (my business
destination was not far from your new offices). As I left the Loop, the radio
station playing in the cab reported that the drive time to O'Hare — once you
got on the expressway, of course — was over an hour. To Midway it was about
the same. It took all of 11 minutes to get to Meigs. On the way, I called
Flight Service for my final weather briefing and learned that delays at O'Hare
were running an hour and a half. At Meigs, once I called ready for takeoff, I
was told there would be a delay for my instrument release. It lasted all of
Meigs works. It's being closed. I used to live in
Chicago. I moved. Several multi-national corporations used to base their
headquarters in Chicago. They moved. Boeing, you're moving to Chicago. See why
I'm worried about your future?
Say, as long as you're still in the honeymoon with
Da Mayor, how about asking him to keep Meigs open?