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While Washington state is offering billions of dollars in incentives to win production of Boeing’s new 777X jetliner, South Carolina has been notably quiet.
Although speculation mounted that the new plane could be built in North Charleston, there hasn’t been a hint of any deal from the Palmetto State to lure the job-creating, plane-making operation away from the Northwest.
From Charleston International Airport, where the plane would be built, to the governor’s office, no one is talking about another Boeing deal locally.
“As far as I know, there are no incentive discussions taking place,” said Charleston County Aviation Authority Airports Director Paul Campbell.
The state senator and former Alcoa executive was involved in discussions to land Boeing’s second 787 production line in North Charleston in 2009 and a subsequent deal in April for Boeing to add another 2,000 jobs and another $1 billion locally by 2020.
“We were never really in the mix for it,” Charleston County Council Vice Chairman Elliott Summey said Wednesday. “In the last two deals, when (Boeing) engaged the Commerce Department, we got engaged. They never engaged the county at all.”
Gov. Nikki Haley’s spokesman forwarded questions to the state Commerce Department, which declined to comment.
Calls to Sen. Hugh Leatherman, the Senate Finance chairman, and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, both of whom were involved in previous talks for Boeing incentives, were not returned Wednesday.
One possible reason raised Wednesday about why North Charleston wasn’t seriously considered could hinge on the reluctance of either Boeing or local officials, or both, to seek more incentives from the General Assembly seven months after the latest $120 million incentive package was approved.
An aviation analyst said it wasn’t in Boeing’s interest to build an updated version of an existing aircraft already produced in Washington state in a new location.
“That’s never been done before,” said Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group of Fairfax, Va. “If it was a (brand-new) ‘clean-sheet-of-paper’ airplane, yes, it could be built there (North Charleston).”
Speculation that Boeing would build the 777X in South Carolina benefited the aerospace company, he said.
“Boeing didn’t have a lot of leverage here, but they found a way to create what leverage they could,” Aboulafia said.
As for the 267 acres Boeing is buying at Charleston International Airport across from its 787 assembly plant, he said there’s no doubt the company will use it to expand.
“They have plans for the future,” Aboulafia said.
Boeing hasn’t said what those plans are.
A new paint facility for the Dreamliner also is expected to be announced soon for the North Charleston campus. Currently, all completed planes are flown to Texas for their final coatings before returning to South Carolina for delivery to customers.
On Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called for a special seven-day session of his state’s legislature to consider a broad package of incentives tied to Boeing’s promise to build the 777X in the Evergreen State under certain conditions.
Those conditions include a positive vote from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on a proposed labor agreement with Boeing that includes union concessions on health care and pensions, as well as an extension of their contract through 2024.
That would means eight more years of labor peace for Boeing after the current union contract expires in 2016.
The proposed 777X labor agreement is up for approval Wednesday. If a majority of union members OK it and lawmakers sign off on the incentive package, including $8 billion in tax breaks for Boeing through 2040, the Chicago-based aerospace giant says final assembly of the new jet and wing fabrication will take place in Washington state.
On Nov. 14, the 777X deal for the Northwest could be sealed.
Production of the new plane, a revamped version of the existing twin-engine jet that Boeing promises will be bigger, fly farther and save fuel, could begin by 2017 or 2018, with the first flight by 2020.
Boeing is expected to formally unveil plans for the new jetliner during the Dubai Air Show. It starts Nov. 17.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
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