Boeing Co.'s newly completed 787 delivery center in North Charleston has booked its first guest: Air India is scheduled to pick up the first South Carolina-assembled 787 Dreamliner in the spring, the plane maker confirmed Thursday.
Published reports for months have named the South Asian national carrier as the local launch customer for the new jet, but the American airframer only made it official this week.
Candy Eslinger, spokeswoman for Boeing South Carolina, said the announcement had "no relationship" to the relative progress of the 787-building operations in North Charleston and Everett, Wash., or to the latest developments in an ongoing financial saga at Air India.
"What changed is I can confirm officially that it's Air India," Eslinger said Thursday.
She referred other questions to the airline, whose spokesman could not be reached.
The Dreamliner in question -- Line Number 46 -- has been closely monitored throughout its assembly this year because it is the first twin-aisle Boeing commercial airplane to be built outside the Puget Sound region of Washington state.
The wings arrived at the North Charleston campus in July. In August, the engines arrived and workers wheeled the aft-body section manufactured to a building next door to final assembly. The plane moved from Position 0, the parts staging area, to Position 1 in September, and edged up to Position 2 in October.
Then, on Sunday, the jet was lowered onto its landing gear and pulled forward to Position 3, the next-to-last station in the massive final assembly building at Charleston International Airport.
Eslinger said it will be handed over to Air India in the second quarter next year. Boeing has built a special delivery center on its property especially for such occasions.
"That'll be a big deal for us," Eslinger said of the changeover.
Adding Dreamliners to its fleet will be big for Air India as well. The airline ordered 27 of the fuel-efficient composite jets in 2005, but a three-year program delay and Air India's money problems have threatened that plan.
Over the past several months, the carrier's board considered slashing the order in half. But then the airline was approved for a loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and late last month, it decided to proceed with its full order via a sale-leaseback arrangement.
Meanwhile, Boeing will have to hustle to meet its most recently announced 2011 delivery goal of roughly five 787s.
The program is running at a production rate of about 2.5 per month rate, but post-assembly problems have meant only two Dreamliners have been delivered so far, both to All Nippon Airways of Japan.
By 2013, Boeing expects to assemble 10 Dreamliners per month, with roughly three of those coming from North Charleston.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.
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