S. Carolina plant to roll out its first 787 Friday

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

The Boeing Co. will roll out a new commercial aircraft at a jet factory today. For the first time, though, the rollout won’t take place in the Puget Sound region.

It’s happening at the company’s site in North Charleston, S.C., where Boeing has a second final-assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing employees in North Charleston began work on their first 787 last July. The aircraft will be revealed at an event there at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time.

“Charleston looks very good,” Jim McNerney, Boeing CEO, said during a conference call with analysts and journalists Wednesday.

The North Charleston final-assembly site will play a key role in helping Boeing reach a goal of building 10 787s a month by the end of 2013. The company’s original 787 assembly line in Everett will be responsible for building seven 787s monthly. North Charleston will build three.

The popularity of the fuel-efficient 787 led company officials to want to build Dreamliners as quickly as possible.

Boeing rolled out the first 787 in Everett in an elaborate ceremony on July 8, 2007. The event, hosted by former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, was televised around the world while about 15,000 workers, suppliers, customers and local dignitaries attended.

Over the next four year years, Boeing struggled with supply-chain, production and flight-test troubles before delivering the first 787 to All Nippon Airways of Japan last September. The three-year delivery delay increased pressure on the company. The airplane had sold very well, and there were about 840 more 787s on order.

In 2009, Boeing decided it needed a second assembly line for the 787, which is composed of mostly composite sections built all over the world. That October, the company selected North Charleston for the site. Boeing had recently bought one of two suppliers doing work there, where aft fuselage sections for 787s were built and integrated with mid-body sections sent from other Boeing suppliers. After choosing North Charleston for an all-new final-assembly factory, Boeing wound up buying the other 787 supplier, too.

As the new South Carolina assembly line took shape, Boeing officials applied lessons learned assembling 787s in Everett. The company has since tweaked 787 final assembly in Everett, as well.

“We’re trying to make them the same. … We’re trying to duplicate and learn rather than separate and be different,” McNerney said this week of the two 787 assembly lines.

For more on the first 787 to be assembled in South Carolina, go to www.newairplane.com/787/southcarolina.