Aerospace & Aviation
Washington State has been at the forefront of innovation in the aviation and aerospace industry for more than a century, designing and building some of the most advanced and successful commercial and military aircraft, uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) and space exploration vehicles the world has ever seen. Today, the state’s aviation and aerospace industry benefits from a dense ecosystem of innovation and collaboration that continues to dominate global markets.
Washington’s robust supply chain and highly skilled workforce enable companies to produce more revenue, sell more products and services, and generate more profits. The state consistently ranks at the top of industry rankings for productivity, innovation, workforce and business-friendly tax structure.
While aircraft production has been the foundation of the industry for more than 100 years, the presence of other aviation and aerospace-related industries – space, electric, hydrogen and hybrid-powered aircraft, uncrewed and autonomous systems, and next-generation air mobility – continue to drive new opportunities.
- The state’s aerospace industry specializes in aerostructures, composites, advanced materials, aircraft interiors, engineering and tooling, avionics, information and communication technologies, R&D, uncrewed and autonomous systems, next-generation air mobility, and space.
- With more than 1,500 aerospace-related suppliers and vendors, Washington’s supply chain is the largest in the United States and the second-largest supplier to Airbus.
- In the 2022 Aerospace Competitive Economics Study, Washington ranked #1 in labor productivity, aerospace sales and exports, and aerospace engineers.
- The state has produced more than 33,000 commercial and military aircraft over the last century.
- Every Boeing model that begins and ends with a ‘7’ has been built in Washington. The state is the sole producer of the 737, 767 and 777, as well as military platforms K-46 Pegasus (based on the 767), P-8 Poseidon (based on the 737) and Air Force One, a 747 derivative.
- 130,000+ workers are employed in Washington’s aviation and aerospace industry.
- Aerospace is a $70 billion industry in Washington State and supports more than 250,000 jobs.
- Washington has ranked #1 nationally in aerospace sales, exports, profits, and employment for more than a decade and exports more aerospace products annually than California, Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona and Alabama—combined.
- Washington is the second most competitive state in the U.S. for labor, material, energy and construction costs.
As air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, demand for new aircraft is increasing, as is the need to confront rising carbon dioxide emissions and their global impact. Hydrogen, electric and hybrid hydrogen-electric propulsion systems are making promising inroads on small commuter, private and short-range commercial aircraft. Initial tests have been conducted on retrofitted fossil-fuel aircraft, but new ground-up designs are emerging from factory floors and undergoing flight trials.
With an abundance of clean energy and feedstock, Washington State leads the way for SAF infrastructure. Recent legislation creates tax credits that will provide subsidies of up to $2 per gallon for SAF. Another bill accelerates permitting and environmental review for constructing clean energy plants. The state also provides grant support for industrial symbiosis and site readiness.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has committed to ensuring that at least 10% of all aviation fuel will be Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the future. To further research, development and adoption, the state’s Sustainable Aviation Technologies and Energies (SATE) Cluster Innovation Accelerator Program is researching new opportunities in aviation fuels, electrified aircraft and new propulsion technologies to meet the industry’s aggressive decarbonization goals.
Washington is particularly well positioned for the arrival of Industry 4.0, which will change the face of how aircraft are designed and produced with its focus on automation, real-time data and connectivity. Robotics, additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, cloud computing and a host of interrelated disciplines will reduce risk and compress the development and production timeframe for new aircraft and subsequent iterations. With its century of know-how and proximity to a huge tech sector of more than 15,000 companies, Washington is the natural choice for aerospace and aviation companies that want to dominate the market for the next several decades.
Technology is changing how aircraft and systems are designed and built. Close collaboration with the state’s world-renowned information and communication technology sector is facilitating changes at all levels, from the factory floor to the cockpit.
Augmented, virtual, and mixed reality are being integrated into training programs to improve skills transfer and knowledge retention. Artificial intelligence is automating the process of testing and analysis, driving innovation in autonomous platforms, drone detection, language guidance, and autonomous flight controls for the aircraft of tomorrow.
In the state’s factories, robots are increasingly automating what used to be manual processes and collaborative robots, or cobots, are combining the benefits of machine and human learning to optimize routine tasks such as palletizing and machine tending.
Washington is at the leading edge of uncrewed aircraft systems. Often referred to as drones, uncrewed aircraft systems or UAS are widely used in transportation, agriculture, media production and public safety. Over the next decade, the UAS industry is expected to create 100,000 jobs and generate $82 billion for the U.S. economy.
Current industry players include Amazon, which is working on its drone-based delivery system, Boeing subsidiary Insitu, which builds fixed-wing drones for the U.S. military, Applewhite Aero for intermediate-scale UAS engineering and Freefly Systems, which is building high-end drones as well as image stabilization hardware for cinematography.
Urban and Advanced Air Mobility programs are also underway. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) will utilize highly automated aircraft to transport cargo and passengers within urban and suburban centers at lower altitudes. Opportunities exist for companies interested in developing a new generation of vehicles and the framework for safe air and ground operations. Advanced Air Mobility is the next logical step, creating transportation systems that can work intercity, deliver cargo and spawn a new generation of private and recreational vehicles.
Buildout at scale will consist of transportation services for passengers, including airport shuttles, air taxis and air ambulances, which, while still years away, provide businesses with a wealth of possibilities in an as-yet untapped market.
Early attempts to build successful supersonic aircraft were plagued with technical problems and noise pollution. But new concepts on the drawing boards utilize recent advances in propulsion and aerodynamics to increase operational efficiencies while reducing the impact of the characteristic sonic booms as the plane pushes through the sound barrier. As these new concepts go from the drawing board to the runway, the Port of Moses Lake’s 13,500-foot runway provides visionaries with the ideal testing ground for flight tests and ground operations.
While the commercial space cluster is a relatively recent endeavor, space companies have been developing spacecraft systems in Washington for more than six decades, from rockets and satellites to orbital and sub-orbital vehicles. Approximately 50% of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites are manufactured in Washington. The industry is predicted to grow annually by 5%, reaching $558 billion in 2026.
Aerospace Trade Shows
Commerce offers businesses the chance to be a co-exhibitor in the Choose Washington exhibits space at international trade shows. Find out more here.
Workforce Training Resources
- Washington Aerospace & Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Pipeline Advisory Committee
- Center of Excellence for Aerospace & Advanced Materials Manufacturing
- University of Washington’s William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
- Aerospace Curriculum Alignment Team (ACAT)
- Aerospace JointApprenticeship Committee
- Washington Aerospace Research & Training Center
The industry is supported by innovative public-private partnerships, including the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance’s Aerospace Cluster, the Center for Excellence for Aerospace & Advanced Manufacturing, Washington Aerospace Training & Research Center and the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation. An emphasis on training and education ensures a steady stream of highly trained specialists in avionics, robotics, logistics, production, interiors and advanced materials. Research and development at the state’s major universities and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory drive additional innovation and invention in the sector.
The American Aerospace Materials Manufacturing Center is a new federally-funded testbed for advancing high-rate manufacturing techniques for next-generation aerospace materials and parts. Located in Spokane, the center will ensure the U.S. and Washington State continue to lead the world in aerospace innovation.
Soar to new heights.
If you’re an aviation, aerospace, uncrewed systems or commercial space company that wants to soar to new heights, you’ll want to put Washington State on your radar. We have a talented team of business experts to help you maximize your potential in Washington, whether you’re looking to add more production capacity, invest in an established business, expand your company or find new partners in the most sophisticated and advanced aerospace supply chain in the world.
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2001 Sixth Ave., Suite 2600, Seattle, WA 98121