Boeing Will Build Its Biggest 787s in South Carolina

A Boeing assembly line employee working on a component for the Dreamliner 787 at Boeing's production facility on April 27, 2012 in North Charleston, South Carolina Photograph by Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Boeing will build the biggest version of its 787 Dreamliner family exclusively in South Carolina at a nonunion plant it built five years ago. It’s part of an effort to lower labor costs, but the company said organized labor had nothing to do with its decision.

The 787-10 will become the first Boeing-designed commercial plane not to have an assembly home in the Seattle area, where Boeing has built airplanes since the first B & W seaplane took flight in 1916. The only previous exception was the 717, a 106-seat model Boeing acquired in its 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas, which it assembled for less than eight years in Long Beach, Calif., before ending production of the plane.

Boeing said Wednesday that the placement of the 787-10 at its North Charleston, S.C., site had nothing to do with the role of organized labor and was dictated by the 10 extra feet in the 787-10′s midbody fuselage. That makes it “too long to be transported efficiently” from the plant aboard the modified 747 Dreamlifter Boeing uses to fly 787 sections from suppliers and smaller 787s from the East Coast plant to Washington State. Overall, the 787-10 is 18 feet longer than the 787-9, which Boeing builds in Everett, Wash., along with the smaller -8 version. “We looked at all our options and found the most efficient and effective solution is to build the 787-10 at Boeing South Carolina,” Larry Loftis, general manager of the 787 program, said in a news release.

Boeing employees walk past the Dreamlifter, a huge custom cargo aircraft designed for transporting Boeing Dreamliner 787 fuselage sections to Boeing's new production facility on April 27, 2012, in North Charleston, S.C.
Photograph by Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

“We aren’t surprised, but we are disappointed,” said Jon Holden, president of IAM District 751 in Seattle and a former Boeing employee in Everett. “Our members have proven time and again that they are Boeing’s best chance for success.”

Boeing is planning to boost the current rate of 10 Dreamliners per month to a dozen in 2016 and to 14 by 2020. Boeing’s Everett plant, north of Seattle, produces seven 787s per month, meaning all the increase will occur in South Carolina. Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said that will allow the company to “balance production rates evenly across both sites.” He said Boeing has no plans for any work in South Carolina other than 787s.

Boeing opened the North Charleston plant in July 2011 to build the 787-8 and quickly ran into problems with production delays and defects that had to be corrected later in Everett. That work further damaged the company’s relationship with the Machinists.

The 787-10 holds about 323 passengers and can fly more than 7,000 nautical miles. Boeing has collected 132 orders for the model in the 13 months since it began selling the plane. The first 787-10 is to be delivered in 2018, with United Airlines the first North American carrier scheduled to receive the plane.

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