What a difference a few weeks make. With a dozen days left in 2012, Boeing South Carolina had delivered only one of its 787 Dreamliners.
The other planes that had rolled out of the North Charleston final assembly factory since summer remained parked on the flight line; three were painted and ready for Air India to pick up. It also had been more than a month and a half since the last roll-out even though the pace of production was closer to one every month.
And while Boeing finally bought the neighboring S.C. Research Authority buildings it had been eyeing for years, that was hardly the major expansion Boeing reportedly had been contemplating since at least March.
Then came the morning of Dec. 20.
Before an unusually large crowd at the Charleston County Aviation Authority board meeting, Boeing South Carolina's top lawyer announced the company's interest in buying more than 1,000 acres around the Charleston International Airport, starting with 320 acres across International Boulevard from the planemaking campus, a long-term investment and major expansion by any standard.
Later that afternoon, Air India finally flew away one of those finished jets.
Even though Boeing was officially on vacation between Christmas and New Year's, the local planemaking operation wasn't done: It delivered a third jet and all-but-delivered its fourth by year's end. And the sixth local product, the one that had spent a month longer than expected in the final assembly building, finally rolled out last week.
That was just a sliver of the company's overall success. Boeing delivered 601 planes in 2012, including 46 Dreamliners (a half-dozen on Dec. 20), more than it had forecast and the most since 1999, it reported last week. And the company booked 1,203 net orders, the second-largest annual total in its history. Boeing reports its year-end financial results, which should be impressive despite high pension costs, on Jan. 30.
Challenges lie ahead. Boeing has plans for across-the-board rate ramp-ups, including a production increase from five Dreamliners per month to 10 per month (for more on that, see Page D3), and its union engineers in Washington could strike in February if negotiations that resume Wednesday aren't fruitful. Not to mention the consummation of that land deal and the local plant's own union intrigue.
But the strong finish to 2012 augurs well for an even stronger 2013 and beyond.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.
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