Boeing drone unit Insitu cuts workforce, dealing a blow to Columbia Gorge community

Boeing drone unit Insitu cuts workforce, dealing a blow to Columbia Gorge community

Boeing drone unit Insitu, which employs about 1,000 people in the Columbia River Gorge and about 500 elsewhere, said Tuesday it is cutting its workforce due to competitive pressures and a falloff in business.

Chief executive Esina Alic announced the news to employees without providing any details on the overall number of people who will be laid off. A person familiar with the details said the workforce will be cut by about 15 percent, which will slash more than 200 jobs.

That’s a major blow to employment in the area around Bingen, Wash., where Insitu is based, and Hood River, Ore., across the Columbia River. A small cluster of aerospace suppliers has grown up there.

Insitu spokeswoman Jenny Beloy said Alic told employees Tuesday that cutting the workforce was necessary to cope with increased competition in the drone business.

“Our market has become more challenging, and with that we’ve seen an increased need to reduce costs,” Alic said.

Insitu’s catapult-launched ScanEagle drones are used by the military for surveillance in battle zones and by the Coast Guard for maritime surveillance. The company provides both the drone systems and the field operators who deploy them.

One Insitu engineer, who doesn’t expect to be laid off but who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his job, said Alic, who was appointed CEO only last year, is a good leader. He blamed mismanagement at the level below her for a series of quality issues that has hurt the company’s reputation.

Insitu lost out this spring in a competition to provide the U.S. Army with a new drone scout called the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS). In a “fly-off” competition between the contending drones conducted in Utah in November, the engineer said, the Insitu drone crashed repeatedly during the field tests. Read more

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