Boeing Co. has followed through on its intention to seek permits for a possible 787 assembly plant in North Charleston, saying in a filing that it wants to start clearing woods near its existing factory within weeks.
But the company also stressed Tuesday that it had not yet made any decisions about where it will build the new production line.
A permit application filed with North Charleston's planning department shows that Boeing would have to clear about 82 acres near its existing 787 fuselage factory at Charleston International Airport. The land is between the developed property the company shares with Global Aeronautica and South Aviation Avenue.
The site work would start Nov. 2 and wrap up Feb. 26, according to the filing, which is titled "Boeing Charleston Expansion Program."
The land preparation would set the stage for a massive building measuring roughly 720,000 square feet -- making it one of the largest single structures in the Charleston area.
Northwoods Mall, by contrast, is about 781,000 square feet.
The application noted that a "construction permit will be sought at a future date" for the proposed improvements, which include the assembly plant and a paved taxiway.
Boeing announced last month that it would seek permits just in case it picks North Charleston for the 787 expansion. The company is expected to make its decision by the end of the year. "None of that has changed," Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said.
She reiterated Tuesday that the permit filing with the city is "just a procedural step."
"It does not mean the company has decided to locate a second line in North Charleston," Eslinger said. "The filing was necessary because the permitting process is very comprehensive and requires a lot of lead time."
She also said the fact that the company listed a Nov. 2 start date on its land-clearing application does not mean Boeing will make a decision about the new plant site before then.
Other places being considered for the plant and jobs include Everett, Wash., the longtime home of Boeing's commercial aircraft manufacturing business. The long-delayed 787 is currently assembled in the Seattle suburb, where local officials are scrambling to prevent the new line from going to another location.
Boeing is considering a second factory to get the production rate back on track and to minimize late deliveries of the new jet. The investment would create hundreds of high- paying manufacturing jobs. Local and state economic development officials who are trying to recruit the assembly line have dubbed it "Project Gemini."
Boeing has not said publicly how many jobs the new plant would create, but Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has pegged the number at about 900.
S.C. State Rep. Chip Limehouse recently said he sees very little reason why the company wouldn't expand its airport operations. The Charleston lawmaker, who is on the House Ways and Means Committee, serves on the Charleston County Aviation Authority and holds seats on the State Infrastructure Bank Board and Joint Bond Review Committee, said South Carolina is an attractive choice because of its quality of life, business climate, work force training initiatives and willingness to offer various incentives.
Also, he noted, South Carolina is a right-to-work state with a low union presence. Unions have delayed production of the 787 and other planes at the company's factories near Seattle. Meanwhile, unionized Boeing workers in North Charleston voted this month to decertify the 2007 vote that made them members of the International Association of Machinists.
All of that has set off a near-panic among Boeing boosters in the Seattle area.
The governor of Washington is stepping up public efforts to court the high-stakes Boeing expansion.
In a report released this week, Gregoire detailed what she called the business case for building a second 787 line in her state. She previously presented the report to Jim Albaugh, chief of Boeing's commercial airplanes division.
Boeing said it appreciated the thoroughness of the report but emphasized that it still feels the costs of workers compensation and unemployment insurance are too high.
"While Washington state has made progress, there is still work to do to deal with the high costs of doing business," Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi said.
The new report includes a comparison of tax burdens in Washington and five other states seen as competitors: South Carolina, North Carolina, Kansas, Texas and California.
Gregoire did not explicitly offer any new financial incentives, though major policy changes wouldn't come until the state Legislature meets in January. The administration said it was awaiting word about what Boeing wants.
"We will look at them and be as responsive as possible to them," said Bill McSherry, Gregoire's lead adviser on aerospace.
The report was largely silent on labor relations, which are seen as key in persuading Boeing to keep 787 production in the state. Boeing has indicated it would like a no-strike agreement with the International Association of Machinists, which waged an eight-week strike last year.
• Boeing to seek building permits for production plant, published 08/26/09• Workers vote to disband their union, published 09/11/09