Boeing's flight line could more than double

Boeing could more than double its Dreamliner production and nearly triple the building space it occupies now in North Charleston, according to a regulatory filing to offset the loss of wetlands as the airplane-maker expands.

To comment

Interested residents have until Jan. 20 to comment on Boeing's wetland mitigation plan at its newly leased land near Charleston International Airport. Statements can be mailed to Charleston District, Corps of Engineers, 69A Hagood Ave., Charleston SC 29403-5107 or the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, 1362 McMillan Ave., Suite 400, Charleston SC 29405. For more information, call Nat Ball at 843-329-8044 or 1-866-329-8187.

To see the plan, go to sac.usace.army.mil.

The Chicago-based aerospace giant provides a glimpse of what it intends to do with the nearly 500 acres it recently leased beside Charleston International Airport in a wetlands mitigation plan filed through the Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The first phase of expansion next year also includes the already announced, dual-bay paint hangar for finished 787s and more parking, though the document isn't clear where that parking will be.

The tentative plan shows the flight line extending to International Boulevard with 16 stalls. It currently has seven. The completed aircraft would cover an existing detention pond at the corner of International Boulevard and South Aviation Avenue and part of the site where the South Carolina Research Authority stands. SCRA is moving to Summerville.

In the second phase, starting in 2016, the regulatory filing says Boeing plans to nearly triple the square footage of its existing structures by adding 3.4 million square feet of manufacturing space and 400,000 square feet of administrative and office space, though the actual location of those structures has not been determined. It currently has more than 2 million square feet of buildings on the main campus near the airport, according to Boeing's website.

In addition, maps in the regulatory papers show a dual line of 787s emerging in the future from Boeing's final assembly plant, which would also be expanded by about two-thirds. The building was designed to grow. Planes currently travel in a U-formation through the assembly line.

The filing shows manufacturing and office structures as well as stormwater ponds on the newly acquired parcels south and west of International Boulevard, but Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said they are placed there for conceptual purposes only, and it doesn't mean that's where they will go.

Wetlands plan


The main thrust of the public notice from the regulatory agencies involves the filling of nearly 154 acres of wetlands on the site adjacent to the airport.

Boeing's expansion will require 2.2 million cubic yards of dirt in-fill material, according to the public notice. It won't be brought in at one time but in stages as development occurs.

To offset its use of wetlands, Boeing is proposing to preserve 3,618 acres in the Cooper River watershed. They include parts of the Keystone, Fairlawn and Nebo tracts near the Francis Marion National Forest. The tracts have 1,820 acres of wetlands altogether.

The properties will then be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources or a similar organization for long-term management and site protection.

"The Boeing Co. is evaluating potential opportunities to restore and/or enhance aquatic resources on these properties," according to the mitigation plan.

The aerospace giant also has identified 150 acres in the Filbin Creek watershed in North Charleston that currently is affected by invasive species. The company is working on a plan with DNR to clean out the problem and restore natural flora and fauna in the area.

In North Charleston, Boeing makes parts for and assembles the 787-8, the base version of its new passenger jet, as well as parts for the 787-9, a stretch line of the aircraft assembled in Everett, Wash. Starting next fall, North Charleston will begin assembling 787-9s.

A decision on the site selection for the 787-10, the biggest version of the aircraft which has yet to be produced, will be announced by March, according to Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina.

Several analysts predict North Charleston will be selected to produce the 787-10 because the size of its fuselage will be too large to fit on the Dreamlifter to transport to Everett.

"That's going to be built down there," said aviation analyst Scott Hamilton of Leeham Co. in Washington state recently, referring to the 787-10's production in South Carolina.

"There's a very good chance of that," said aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group in Virginia.

He said Boeing's mitigation plan indicates the company is going to continue to grow in South Carolina.

"It sounds like they could take a greater share of the 787 production," he said.

Boeing plans to ramp up 787 production from 10 a month currently at its facilities in North Charleston and Everett combined to 12 a month by 2016 and 14 a month by 2019.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.

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