In North Charleston, Boeing South Carolina prepares to ramp up production at a site that is both supplier and rival to Boeing’s Puget Sound facilities.
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Just over three years after Boeing South Carolina delivered the first 787 Dreamliner built at its final-assembly plant here, on Tuesday it handed the keys of the 100th jet to American Airlines.
Celebrating that milestone as Boeing prepares to ramp up 787 production, site leader Beverly Wyse said, “The next 100 planes will happen in about half that time.”
It was a watershed day at Boeing’s East Coast manufacturing complex, which has recently added significant engineering work and now employs about 7,500 people — growth that makes it both a key supplier to Boeing’s Puget Sound-area factories and a serious rival for future airplane work.
Boeing in S.C.
Employees: About 7,500, compared with more than 78,000 in Washington state.
787 fuselage work: The site fabricates the rear fuselage and assembles the mid-fuselage of all 787s.
787 final assembly: It currently builds four to five Dreamliners per month, compared with seven built in Everett.
Other: The company also manufactures parts for 787 passenger cabins and has IT, engineering design and research units in South Charleston.
On a tour of the facility, Wyse declared the early manufacturing problems that dogged the North Charleston site largely solved.
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A couple Dreamliners parked on the flight line for rework are evidence that smaller problems persist in final assembly.
Yet the tour suggested dramatic progress in the back-end fuselage-assembly operations that were the source of trouble in the past.
Just two years ago, the amount of unfinished work coming out of the fuselage-assembly plants that then traveled downstream to final assembly in Everett was such a problem that Boeing offered bonuses to its South Carolina workers to get it under control.
“There’s almost no traveled work at this stage,” said Wyse, who previously managed the 737 program in Renton. “Unit over unit, we’re seeing tremendous improvement.”
Inside the new American Airlines jet, the cabin interior was impressively comfortable, with lie-flat business seats and a section of premium mid-cabin economy seats with extra legroom.
This is American’s 14th Dreamliner, but the first from Charleston, not Everett. Its 15th stood nearby, along with six more completed Dreamliners ready to be picked up by other airlines.
At the ceremony, Boeing liaison engineer Robert Hooge, 29, said the first 787 built in North Charleston “took probably six months.”
“Now it’s four or five built per month,” he said. “It’s amazing progress.”
South Carolina state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who represents North Charleston, was ebullient.
“Today is a great day,” said Kimpson. “This is a huge economic success for the state and the city.”
Around the corner of the final-assembly building was the only flaw in Boeing’s perfect showpiece: two Dreamliners that sat apart from the others.
According to a Boeing quality inspector who spoke on condition of anonymity, the planes are awaiting rework before Air Canada can take them.
Wyse offered her assurance that this was a relatively minor glitch.
“There are a couple of supplier issues we are working through,” said Wyse. “We are doing additional rework on a couple of airplanes as part of our normal process. … But we’re in good shape.”
American Airlines Vice President Terri Pope certainly likes the end product.
American has ordered a total of 20 of the original model 787-8s, plus 22 of the larger 787-9s. It’s already flying the Dreamliner on long routes from Dallas to Beijing, Shanghai and Santiago, Chile, and from Chicago to Tokyo.
Next month it will begin flying 787s from Chicago to Beijing and from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand.
“We love our 787s,” said Pope. “Our long-term strategy for this airplane is just beginning.”