Boeing said Wednesday it will build all of its 787-10 airplanes — its newest, largest Dreamliners — exclusively at its North Charleston plant.
The company currently is designing the airplane in Everett, Wash., with final assembly of the first plane to begin in 2017, it said in a news release on its website. Boeing will continue to assemble smaller 787 jets in North Charleston and Everett.
“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, vice president and general manager of the 787 program for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement.
“This will allow us to balance 787 production across the North Charleston and Everett sites as we increase production rates. We're happy with our growth and success in South Carolina, and the continued success at both sites gives us confidence in our plan going forward.”
In his announcement Thursday, Boeing also said it will more than double its North Charleston monthly production within six years.
But a spokeswoman insisted that increase in production will not translate into significantly more jobs or construction at the North Charleston plant. Candy Eslinger said the plant, which hires contractors during surges in work, has about 7,500 workers currently at the site, but that number fluctuates up and down based on production needs.
“The final assembly building that we built in 2009 was built with additional capacity in mind,” she said, adding the operation will realize efficiencies in its production process as work continues.
The 787-10 will be 18 feet longer than the biggest 787 that is currently made. That makes the midbody of the plane too long to be transported efficiently from North Charleston to Everett for final assembly, the company said.
Boeing currently makes 10 of its 787s a month — seven in Everett and three in North Charleston. That production will increase to 14 a month by the end of the decade with S.C. production increasing to five a month in 2016 and seven a month by 2020.
Aviation industry expert Richard Aboulafia, with the Fairfax, Va.,-based The Teal Group, said it is hard to say how many workers it will take to ramp up production at the North Charleston facility without knowing the exact mix of airplanes that will be built there.
But he said it is reasonable to expect the number of employees needed to make each plane to decrease as the company perfects its manufacturing techniques for the new jets.
“These planes are going to get a lot less labor intensive,” he said, adding the manufacturing process will be more standardized and automated over time.
Overall, though, the announcement is good news for South Carolina as the new work likely will attract supporting businesses, Aboulafia said. “There’s definitely a multiplier effect.”
S.C. lawmakers were quick to weigh in on the announcement.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, attributed South Carolina’s success in landing the work to its non-union work force.
“Boeing continues to bring business to South Carolina primarily because of our successful right-to-work laws,” Wilson said in a statement. “The Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner is one of a kind and the first to be solely built in a non-union factory.”
He said the Lowcountry expansion will have a positive effect on Boeing’s Midlands suppliers.
“Boeing’s decision to expand is tremendously significant ... will create jobs at Zeus Industrial Products in Orangeburg for tubing, Prysmian Group in Lexington for cable, AGY in Aiken for cabin interiors and Thermal Engineering Corporation in Columbia for composite exterior painting,” he said.
Boeing has grown rapidly at the North Charleston site in the past five years. For example:
• Clearing began this month on the site for a new paint facility.
• An engineering design center will be added at the campus.
• A jet-propulsion facility for Boeing’s 737 MAX, a smaller jet, also is being built in Ladson.
The company also leases 468 acres around its North Charleston campus for future growth.
Boeing has received more than 1,000 orders for its 787 Dreamliner and has delivered more than 165 to 21 customers worldwide. The longer 787-10 will will be able to carry 323 passengers, a third more than the smallest 787s, and have more cargo capacity, the company said.
“This will be the most popular 787 of the series,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, said in a statement. “It will solidify Boeing’s position in South Carolina and continue to draw suppliers to South Carolina, which will create more jobs.”
Gov. Nikki Haley also trumpeted the deal as “huge.”
“That Boeing is committing the future of the Dreamliner to our state – the first place, ever, outside of Washington state that Boeing has built a commercial airplane – lets the whole world know that South Carolina workers are the best around,” the Lexington Republican said in a statement.