James McNerney, who retired as head of the airplane maker this month but still serves as chairman of its board, talked about the fate of the bank in remarks during an appearance with the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. this week. Boeing is the biggest dollar recipient of funding from the bank, which finances businesses that export American products.
Congress did not reauthorize the bank’s charter this week as part of the larger highway bill that funds road and mass transit projects. A Senate version of the bill had a provision to renew the bank’s charter, but it was removed in the House. The legislation is a temporary extension of funds until Oct. 29, when lawmakers have to come back and start negotiations about a longer-term measure.
The bank’s fate has bitterly divided Republican lawmakers on the Hill, pitting those who support its role in job creation at home against those who say it subsidizes large corporations such as Boeing, General Electric and others. Ninety percent of the bank’s funding goes to American small businesses, according to official data.
McNerney told those assembled in Washington that Boeing was “actively considering” moving pieces of the company overseas if the issue isn’t resolved on a permanent basis, echoing GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt’s remarks to the same group last month.
Both executives argue Export-Import Bank financing lets large corporations pass on benefits to American-owned small businesses. McNerney said around 70 percent of the work that goes into a Boeing plane is provided by small businesses.
“We have kept our jobs and technology in this country in part because of that arrangement,” McNerney said.
Political issues aside, McNerney shed light on why the world didn’t yet have supersonic planes that would cut down on long commercial flights. In response to a question from Economic Club president and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein, McNerney said the company had one in the works before world events caused it to change course.
“Just before 9/11 happened, we were on our way to develop a sonic cruiser,” he said. “But in the course of 18 months, we had to completely change our view,” he said.
After the attack, security became a bigger concern than speed or range, and skyrocketing fuel prices forced the company to focus on designing more fuel-efficient aircraft.
McNerney said he still hasn’t given up hope that such a plane will ferry passengers in the future.