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Boeing is in line for a bailout under “too big to fail” theory

Boeing 737 Max airplanes are seen parked on Boeing property near Boeing Field on Aug. 13, 2019 in Seattle, Washington

Boeing directly employs about 150,000 people but relies on the broader aerospace industry with 2.5 million jobs. David Ryder/Getty Images

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Boeing is critically important to the U.S. economy. That is the argument being made in favor of giving the company a government bailout. If Boeing collapses, the effects would ripple through American manufacturing. In essence, the company is too big to fail. Right?

“Yes, that is absolutely correct, it is too big to fail,” said Bijan Vasigh at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He said Boeing’s importance to the U.S. economy can’t be overstated. 

“Air transportation, including aircraft manufacturing, if it was a country, would be the fifth biggest economy in the world.”

Boeing is a huge part of that, along with its suppliers.

“The bulk of the jobs involved are actually in the supply chain,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at Teal Group. 

“It’s tremendously complicated to build a jetliner, and there are lots of individual subcontractors, each with their own workforces,” he said. Take the 737 Max, for example. The body comes from Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas. General Electric builds the engines in Evendale, Ohio, along with a French company

And Boeing is also a space and defense company, building everything from fighter jets to a new spacecraft designed to take astronauts to the International Space Station. 

“They are a huge provider of government services,” said Arthur Wheaton at the Worker Institute at Cornell.

Boeing employs around 150,000 people directly. In its call for government support, it says it relies on the broader aerospace industry with 2.5 million jobs.

Wheaton said it’s important to protect that specialized, highly trained workforce.

“If you start shutting Boeing down, and you start losing those employees, then you could be hurting by decades the capacity of the United States to start building other planes when things, or if things, pick up,” he said.

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