Boeing S.C. will be able to assemble extended Dreamliners
This much is clear: Boeing South Carolina will eventually be capable of assembling the 787-9 extended Dreamliner at its North Charleston plant.
When that will happen; how long that has been in the aerospace giant’s plans; and how significant that capability is for the future of the local plane-making complex is less clear.
The issue arose Monday on the opening day of the Farnborough International Airshow, the high-profile industry expo going on this week outside London.
According to reports, Air Lease Corp. CEO Steven Udvar-Házy was speaking to reporters when he said something about the 787-9s his company has ordered being built or delivered in South Carolina.
Earlier this year, company officials said the local factories would be responsible for fuselage components for the 787-9 but nothing about whether the extended model would be assembled here like the basic 787-8 Dreamliner is now. So Udvar-Házy’s comments caught the attention of those in the room.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Udvar-Házy said Boeing told him the 787-9 version of the Dreamliner that the aircraft leasing company has ordered could be made at the North Charleston factory.”
FlightGlobal, a British industry publication, said the veteran air lessor “told reporters he plans to take delivery of his 787s in Charleston” and suggested Udvar-Házy “may have given away a secret plan.”
Neither published report quotes Udvar-Házy, and no recording of his comments could be found Monday.
Meanwhile, Saj Ahmad, a consultant with StrategicAero Research, claims he was “two feet away” from the Air Lease executive as he spoke and heard only a “fleeting reference” to North Charleston in response to an unrelated question about Boeing’s archrival’s decision to build its bestselling plane in Mobile, Ala.
“(Udvar-Házy) probably forgot that CHS does not (yet) produce 787-9s on Boeing’s current planning,” Ahmad wrote in an email. “It was a figurative example to a question when asked about whether he cared where his airplanes were built on the back of the Airbus-Alabama deal.”
Asked about his customer’s comment, new Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said the South Carolina final assembly operation is not “restricted” to building 787-8s.
“We’re starting with -8s and we’ll see where that goes,” Conner said, according to the FlightGlobal report.
In an email, Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger confirmed 787-9s could eventually come together in North Charleston, but she could not say when that would start and how it would be balanced with the Dreamliner assembly lines in Everett, Wash.
“Though it’s been known for some time that all the lines would eventually be capable of doing -9 work, which means that South Carolina may very well do -9s,” she wrote in an email.
The extended Dreamliner would seat about 40 more passengers — 250-290 vs. the 787-8’s 210-250 — and have a longer flying range.
Boeing South Carolina, which makes aft-body components and assembles midbody components for every 787-8, will begin production for the 787-9 early next year, according to Eslinger.
The first 787-9 flight will also be in 2013, and first delivery is scheduled for early 2014.
Air Lease Corp. ordered a dozen 787-9s in December 2007, according to Boeing’s website.