Boeing confirmed Wednesday that the largest version of its 787 Dreamliner — the 787-10, which was launched a year ago and so far has 132 orders — will be assembled exclusively in North Charleston, S.C.
Boeing said the midbody fuselage section of the 787-10 “is too long to be transported efficiently from North Charleston” to Everett.
Production of the 787-10 in South Carolina will enable Boeing to bring that assembly site to the same 787 production rate as the Everett plant by the end of the decade.
The decision was hinted at a year ago at the Paris Air Show by Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner.
It makes clearer the profound impact of Boeing’s 2009 decision to bypass its unionized stronghold in Washington in favor of building a second 787 assembly line in nonunion South Carolina. In six years, Dreamliner final assembly will be equally divided between the East and West Coast sites.
Jon Holden, District 751 president of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union, said in a statement that “while we are not surprised, we are certainly disappointed to see Boeing make this decision.”
In an interview, Larry Loftis, Boeing vice president in charge of the 787 program, said the prospect of increased work in South Carolina won’t mean less work here.
“We will continue to build here at the rate we are today, at seven (787s) per month,” Loftis said. “When you put that on top of what’s going on at the Everett site with 777X, it’s an exciting future for Boeing and for our community.”
Boeing has already begun construction of a new fuselage-assembly building and a composite-wing manufacturing facility in Everett for the 777X, which is to enter service in 2020.
So by the end of the decade, the prospect for Boeing widebody-jet production is that North Charleston and Everett will each be rolling out seven Dreamliners per month, while Everett will in addition be producing up to eight 777s per month, plus two 767 tankers for the Air Force.
Everett also could potentially still be producing the 747-8 at the end of the decade, though sparse sales of the jumbo jet make it doubtful production will continue that long.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s office issued a statement saying he “wished all Boeing work was done in Washington,” but adding that the announcement is “no surprise.”
“In fact, our aerospace strategy anticipated this eventuality. The main fuselage section is simply too large to fit inside the Dreamlifter, so it simply makes sense that the company would move this massive structure across a street rather than across the country,” Inslee’s statement said. “The decision has no impact on jobs here and doesn’t affect our outlook for growth in the aerospace industry.”
The 787-10, the first of which is to be built in 2017, is a high-capacity, shorter-range version of the Dreamliner, 18 feet longer than the 787-9. It will carry 300 to 330 passengers compared with 280 on the 787-9, but will have almost 1,500 miles less range.
The long midsection for all the 787 models is assembled in North Charleston from parts arriving from Italy and Japan. Wiring, hydraulic tubing, ducting and insulation systems are also installed there.
For the original 787-8 model and for the larger 787-9 model, most of the midsections are then flown to Everett in a giant, customized transport airplane called the Dreamlifter.
At the current production rate of 10 Dreamliners per month, seven are assembled this way in Everett and three are assembled in a second final-assembly plant at the North Charleston manufacturing complex, adjacent to where the midsection is built.
The 787-10 midbody section will be 114 feet long, 10 feet longer than on the -9.
The maximum length section that the Dreamlifter can hold is about 110 feet, Boeing said.
Loftis said that to make the building of the 787-10 as efficient as possible, “the most practical and best design solution was to extend the midbody.”
“When we did that, it did outgrow the capability of being transported on the Dreamlifter. It led us down the path of exclusively building the 787-10 in Boeing South Carolina,” he said
“It was the only practical way,” Loftis added.
Loftis said he’s optimistic about future demand for the airplane.
“The tendency over time is (for airlines) to start migrating towards larger versions of the airplanes because of the fuel efficiency you get per seat,” he said.
He said the 787-10 “will allow us to balance 787 production across the North Charleston and Everett sites as we increase production rates.”
While Everett maintains its production rate at seven Dreamliners per month, North Charleston will gradually increase from three 787s per month today to five per month in 2016 and seven per month by the end of the decade.
Loftis said the temporary surge line in Everett, an extra 787 line put in place to meet production targets while the South Carolina line came up to speed, will wind down and make room for other work around 2016.
It’s expected this assembly bay will become a 777X assembly line.
Loftis said the 787 assembly lines on opposite coasts will be twins, working in parallel.
“We have the same manufacturing plan. We use the exact same work instructions,” he said. “If one team figures out how to do it a little bit better, it’s quickly shared across sites.”
In 2003, Washington state granted Boeing $3.2 billion in tax breaks over two decades to win 787 assembly for Everett.
To be constitutional, the measure was not specific to Boeing or the 787 but applied to any manufacturer doing “final assembly of a superefficient airplane.”
It did not guarantee the state exclusive rights to build the 787.
The tax breaks kicked in as soon as Boeing built its first 787 line here.
In 2009, after a strike by the IAM the previous fall, Boeing chose North Charleston for a second 787 assembly line.
In 2013, Washington extended the Boeing tax breaks to 2040 to win assembly and wing fabrication of the 777X for Everett.
The wording of the IAM’s contract extension last January that sealed the 777X win appears to preclude the option of building a second line for that jet elsewhere — though a second site is unlikely since the plane is much bigger than the 787, and with a lower production rate.
The IAM’s Holden said the union, along with the engineering union, plans to lobby in Olympia for legislation that would guarantee future jobs at companies that take the tax breaks.
“It’s really to protect the citizens of Washington for their investment,” Holden said.
The decision to build the 787-10 exclusively in North Charleston is a clear vote of confidence in a site that has struggled with production issues from the start, and even earlier this year was still sending incomplete midbody fuselage sections to Everett, causing backups in final assembly.
The most recent problems began last fall, after Boeing simultaneously raised the production rate and let go hundreds of contractors. The midbody fabrication facility fell badly behind and the amount of incomplete sections traveling to Everett spiked.
That prompted Boeing management to bring back many contractors and to offer the permanent workforce an incentive bonus if it could successfully catch up on the tardy work and slash the amount of traveled work.
In May, the South Carolina production workers met the preset target and Boeing awarded an incentive bonus of 8 percent of last year’s gross pay.
Loftis said the fuselage sections are now arriving from Charleston “with very low traveled work.”
“By and large, we’re almost all the way through the flow of disruption (that was) coming into our factory from earlier in the year,” Loftis said.