Vought Aircraft, which builds the rear fuselage of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, is slowing work almost to a standstill and will temporarily lay off nearly 200 employees until Boeing ramps up production following the recent two-month Machinists strike.
Vought Aircraft, which builds the rear fuselage of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner in a new assembly plant in Charleston, S.C., is slowing the facility almost to a standstill, and its production lines will likely remain largely idle into next year.
About 170 Vought workers and about 20 contract workers in Charleston will be temporarily laid off Thursday. Only 30 to 40 production workers will remain at the plant, along with some 150 manufacturing engineers, planners and other white-collar staff.
That’s down from a total of about 325 Vought employees and 300 contractors this past summer. Most employees were new and had completed just a year or so working on the airplane.
Joy Romero, Vought’s vice president for the 787 program and head of the Charleston facility, said the temporary shutdown was forced by the just-ended Machinists strike, which stopped Dreamliner final assembly in Everett for two months.
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“Boeing cannot simply ‘turn the switch on’ and be back up to speed instantaneously. It will take them time to ramp back up to schedule,” said Romero in a memo to employees Monday. “Obviously, Boeing cannot absorb our 787 fuselage sections beyond the capacity of their own assembly line — which has not been moving.”
On October 24, Vought stopped fabricating any more of the carbon-fiber composite shells of the rear fuselage sections, which had backed up inside the factory as far as airplane number 19. It also cut overtime and let go hundreds of temporary contractors who had been working at the site to help catch up on previous program delays.
Romero’s memo announced that this week Vought will also stop most assembly and systems installation work.
“Up to now, we have continued to work on our fuselage sections, getting them ready for delivery to Boeing,” wrote Romero. “Now we must extend our temporary shutdown to include most of our assembly operations, except for installing engineering changes on airplanes 5 and 6. This will take place within the week.”
Planes 5 and 6 are the next two up for delivery to Everett when the final assembly operation there gets unclogged.
How long the Charleston factory will be idled is still undetermined.
“The length of this temporary shutdown will be determined after we receive a revised 787 schedule from Boeing, which we expect within the next 30 days,” said Romero’s memo. “However, we would anticipate that the shutdown would be at least the same length as the strike, likely longer.”
In Vought’s third quarter earnings teleconference Monday, chief executive Elmer Doty also addressed the 787 plant shutdown.
“Our Charleston facility has been continually slowing operations since the spring of this year in accordance with Boeing’s revised schedule” for the earlier delays, Doty said. “Until recently, we have been able to match this slowdown through the reduction of overtime and the release of temporary contract employees. However, given the most recent delays, further reductions are necessary.”
“This was a difficult decision, and very sad,” said Doty. “Approximately 400 people are impacted, which approaches half of the people we have assigned to the program.”
Most of Vought’s other 787 program staff — including engineers and support staff — are located in Dallas, Texas.
Doty said Vought will continue 787 development and test work, as well as the implementation of changes to aircraft required by glitches — such as the recently discovered program-wide problem of fasteners that were installed incorrectly.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com