Boeing Expands Its Helena Operation

Apr 17, 2015

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is expanding its operations in Helena, as it prepares to supply parts for a new version of the 787.

In a video supplied by Boeing, a milling machine the size of a small house cuts a structural piece for a Boeing airliner at the company’s Helena plant.  The plant, acquired by Boeing five years ago, supplies parts for most of the commercial models Boeing builds.

"We build the parts for the wing, we also build landing gears for a couple of the models, we also build some internal structural parts for some other models."

Boeing Helena director Eric Smith says his plant just finished expanding by nearly 50 percent, adding factory floor space equivalent to football field. It will soon start adding to its 140-person workforce as well, as the plant gets ready to build wing attachments for a forthcoming stretch version of the 787 Dreamliner, taking titanium from a factory in China and machining it before it’s shipped to the next factory, in Japan.

A Boeing worker at the Helena, MT plant.
Credit Courtesy Photo

The plant makes more than airplane parts, though, it also produces waste, such as metal shavings and contaminated cutting fluid. It all gets reused or recycled, according to Luke Peterson, who runs the recycling area at the plant.

"We take that titanium or aluminum and we remove the excess coolant from it, then we reclaim
that coolant, we’re able to clean it, and send it back onto the floor here."

But why build aircraft parts in the middle of Montana? Eric Smith says the quality of the workforce is a big reason.

"The school systems here are getting people prepared for the workforce, which is important. The technical talent is here, the engineering school at MSU are here, so it’s a very competitive environment, so we gotta figure out ways to keep it competitive."

Boeing says it spent $35 million expanding its Helena factory space. The company didn’t predict how many jobs are being added, it says that’s still being assessed.

The 787 “dash ten” model, using parts machined in Helena, is expected to enter service in 2018.