Boeing South Carolina expanding again
During the same week Boeing South Carolina was scheduled to deliver its first 787 Dreamliner to Air India, it was also scheduled to begin its latest North Charleston campus expansion.
A Dreamliner deferred
On Aug. 24, a Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman said “the Air India delivery team is here in South Carolina for the delivery that’s scheduled for next week.”
On Monday, Boeing’s top salesman for India reiterated that schedule. But as of late Friday, the first 787 Dreamliner for the South Asian national carrier still sat parked beside the North Charleston delivery center.
Neither Candy Eslinger, the local spokeswoman, nor Dinesh Keskar, senior vice president for Asia Pacific & India sales, offered any new information Friday. But as the planes have been ready for pickup for weeks now, the hold-up seems to be the government-owned airline, not Boeing.
Boeing has delivered 18 of the composite-bodied jets to four airlines since last year, all from the airframer’s Everett, Wash., complex. LAN Airlines became the first airline in the Americas to take delivery of a Dreamliner on Friday.
Meanwhile, the wait in North Charleston continues.
According to recent state filings, the local plane-making plant is extending its aft-fuselage factory at Charleston International Airport, and Thursday was the start date of the year-and-a-half project.
And according to a county filing from July, Boeing is already in the process of modifying or expanding its nearby mid-body assembly building.
It’s not clear what the overall plan is, as Boeing did not respond to questions about the projects Friday. But analysts who follow the company figure it’s part of the plan to ramp up 787 production significantly over the next couple of years.
“I would guess it’s to take production to (seven a month) when the time comes,” Scott Hamilton of Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Co., wrote in an email Friday.
After reviewing a map of the Boeing construction site filed with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, London-based Saj Ahmad of StrategicAero Research wrote that “it does look like some pretty BIG investment going on and I can surmise that it will be there to support not just the ramp up, but thereafter as well — not just from the (South Carolina) line, but for the two (Washington) lines as well.”
The aft-body facility, formerly part of Vought Aircraft Industries, and the mid-body assembly operation, once a Global Aeronautica operation, supply both the North Charleston final assembly line and those in Everett, Wash. Boeing bought out both plants because they were weak links in the supply chain, and aside from a shimming problem traced to the aft-body factory earlier this year, they’ve apparently performed better.
The 787 program overall is making 3.5 airplanes a month now, with plans to increase that rate to five per month by the end of this year and 10 per month by the end of next year.
Boeing South Carolina has rolled out three assembled 787s so far, but its first customer, Air India, has yet to pick up any of them.
The aft- and mid-body factories will begin making parts of the 787-9, an extended version of the Dreamliner, in the spring.
Boeing has recently expanded the northern edge of the mid-body building, adding a staging area for parts ready to be shipped. Company officials have also spoken of the need to install new tooling in the aft-body factory to keep up with rate expectations.
“We are requesting to expand the permit area an additional 11.3 acres to accommodate the extension of Building 88-19,” Michael Spurlock, director of civil engineering for Florida-based BRPH Architects Engineers Inc. wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to DHEC.
(Building 88-19 is the aft-body building; the mid-body factory is Building 88-20.)
The project, which is set to be completed in February 2014, will increase the site’s “disturbed acreage” by 19.7 acres.
The “impervious coverage” at Boeing will increase from 75.3 acres to 111.7 acres, Spurlock wrote.
“This 36.4-acre increase includes the new building extension and associated sidewalks and roadways,” he said.
Spurlock did not respond to a request seeking comment Friday.
A July 20 filing with Charleston County by the KBR Building Group — which was part of the joint venture that built Boeing’s centerpiece final assembly building and other structures in North Charleston — describes its latest work as “Construction Services in support of internal modifications and building expansion to buildings 88-19 and 88-20.”
John Young, the KBR project manager who filled out the July form, did not return a call Friday.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.