A Boeing 787 operated by All Nippon Airways taxis under a rainbow created by fire trucks at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Oct. 1, 2012, during an official welcome ceremony after it landed on the first day of service on ANA’s Seattle-Tokyo route. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A Boeing 787 operated by All Nippon Airways taxis under a rainbow created by fire trucks at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Oct. 1, 2012, during an official welcome ceremony after it landed on the first day of service on ANA’s Seattle-Tokyo route. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Last Everett-built Boeing 787 rolls off the assembly line

Production of the once-hot Dreamliner is being consolidated at the company’s South Carolina plant.

EVERETT — The last Everett-built Boeing 787 Dreamliner has rolled off the assembly line at the Paine Field factory, marking the end of the model’s manufacture in Washington. Production of the 787 is being consolidated in South Carolina this month.

The final 787 assembled in Everett left the plant Feb. 26, the Boeing Co. said in a statement on Thursday.

That 787-9 version is scheduled for delivery to All Nippon Airways, which was the first 787 customer when Chicago-based Boeing launched the twin-aisle, wide-body passenger jet program in 2004. The model first entered service in 2011. Nearly a thousand Dreamliners have been delivered since.

“Our Everett teammates working on the 787 have played an instrumental role in the success of the program since the very beginning of the program, and we are filled with gratitude for the team’s ongoing professionalism and commitment to our customers,” the company said.

A Boeing employee noted that there was no fanfare to mark the jet’s rollout.

“I’m sad to see it go — I worked on the 787 line for years,” said the Boeing employee, who asked to not be identified because they were not authorized to comment.

About 900 employees support 787 production in the Puget Sound region, including those working on the 787 final assembly line in Everett, the company has said.

Some have “already been assigned to other programs or work in Puget Sound,” Boeing said.

Others will be assigned to perform 787 quality inspections in Everett, activity that’s expected to continue throughout 2021, Boeing said. Dreamliner production has been beset by manufacturing defects in recent months, including tiny imperfections that are about the width of a human hair in the jets’ carbon-fiber airframes. Repairs, which can include taking apart the cabins to search for flaws, reportedly can take weeks.

“We are continuing to work through next steps beyond that, including additional employee movement,” Boeing said.

The plan to consolidate production at Boeing’s 787 North Charleston, South Carolina, assembly plant this month is on schedule, the company said. Once finalized, the production rate of the 787 will be reduced from the current six planes a month to a rate of five planes per month. During peak production, the Everett and South Carolina factories split a manufacturing schedule that produced 14 Dreamliners a month.

Jon Holden, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751, said the union still believes the decision is wrong.

“The statement we issued after Boeing announced their decision on October 1 is the same way we feel today,” Holden said in a statement on Thursday.

“We feel strongly that Boeing would benefit from keeping both lines open. Our members have sacrificed a lot to ensure the success of the 787 program. Our members were intricate in developing and launching the 787 program and helped create funding for this program. What is disappointing is our efforts seem to be forgotten during this process and Boeing fails to capitalize on the strengths of our workforce.”

District 751 represents about 33,000 workers statewide.

“We will continue working to bring aerospace work to this region because our members and our communities have demonstrated why our state has the most efficient, productive aerospace manufacturing facilities in the world,” Holden said. “Washington State remains far and above the best place for aerospace design and manufacturing. Our Union will push for Boeing to launch the new mid-market airplane and capitalize on the workforce, capacity and resources in Washington to ensure success and help Boeing gain back market share they have lost to Airbus because of gaps in their product offering.”

“The decision to consolidate production does not change our commitment to Washington state,” the company said on Thursday. “We’ve made many long-term investments in the Puget Sound region to support our development programs including the 777X and completing the 737 Max family.”

The final 787 rollout marks the end of an era at the Paine Field factory for the jet, a best-seller whose star faded when the COVID-19 pandemic gutted the airline and travel industry last year. Travel has rebounded somewhat, but demand for new passenger planes, especially large wide-body planes such as the 787 and 777, remains low and isn’t expected to return to 2019 levels for at least three or four years.

Boeing, the 787 and state officials have had somewhat of a turbulent history.

In 2003, state lawmakers authorized a suite of aerospace tax breaks, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to ensure that Boeing would produce the 787 in unionized Everett.

Boeing put the assembly line in Everett but later announced plans for a second line. State and local officials lobbied the jet maker in hopes of a Washington location, but in 2009 Boeing broke ground on the 787 assembly plant in South Carolina. The non-union facility, which assembles only 787s, produced its first Dreamliner in 2012. It is the sole location outside Washington where the company does final assembly of commercial airplanes.

Last summer, Boeing said it was considering consolidating production in South Carolina, citing the need to cut costs and boost efficiency. In October, Boeing gave the South Carolina consolidation plan the green light, a decision that stunned and angered state and union officials.

At the beginning of this year, Boeing employed 5,706 people in South Carolina, down from 6,869 at the start of 2020, according to the company.

Boeing continues to produce the 747, 767, KC-46 Pegasus military tanker and the 777 and new 777X at Paine Field. Production of the 747 there is due to end in 2022.

The 777X has also faced headwinds. Earlier this year, Boeing delayed the first delivery date another year, to late 2023.

The jet maker attributed the latest 777X delay to new, tougher standards for certifying planes — an outgrowth of the crash-induced 737 Max crisis — and the damage that the pandemic is doing to international travel.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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