Now, as thousands of aerospace workers prepare to retire, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is wondering where the skilled workers will come from to build those planes.
During a tour of Machinists Inc., a precision machining company and Boeing supplier in Seattle, Cantwell announced she will be holding a Senate Aviation Subcommittee hearing this week on aviation competitiveness in Washington, D.C.
"Over the next 20 years, the aerospace industry is expected to grow by more than $3 trillion," said Cantwell. "I'm bringing together aviation and aerospace leaders to talk about what they think must be done for the U.S. to remain on top of these industries."
Machinists Inc. is one of hundreds of local manufacturers that will help Boeing reach its goals. The plant will help make parts for the 396 planes Boeing took orders for last week.
"Today we're here to make sure that the work force is there to help produce those planes," she said Sunday during her tour of the plant.
Cantwell says 21,000 aerospace workers will be needed over the next decade to keep up with international competitors.
"We want to remain the center of aerospace manufacturing here in the Northwest, so we want to really focus on what we're going to do to get a lot more people interested," she said.
To make her point, Cantwell focuses on the numbers.
"Half of the Boeing work force will be eligible to retire in five to seven years, meaning that's when there will be a big demand for workers," she says.
She says getting workers in takes a three-pronged approach.
The first is getting is children interested in aerospace early. Second is getting the unemployed trained through community and technical colleges. And third, attracting technically trained veterans as they return from war.
All that and more will be discussed at Cantwell's hearing, scheduled for Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
The hearing will include testimony from John J. Tracy, chief technology officer for the Boeing Co.; Stan Sorscher of SPEEA; Dan Elwell, senior vice president of Aerospace Industries Association; Nick Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America; and Pete Bunce, president and CEO of General Aviation Manufacturers Association.