Citing unnamed sources, a Seattle Times' story Tuesday detailed serious flaws in Boeing 787 Dreamliner production at the North Charleston plant, further damaging the operation's image.
The newspaper reported the work in North Charleston is "poorly done" and "getting worse" and causing Everett workers to make up for mistakes being made at the South Carolina 787 assembly plant.
The report said uncompleted 787s are being sent from the non-unionized North Charleston plant to Washington state to meet local production goals. Once in Everett, Wash., the planes have to be reworked to fix the problems, adding to the workload of the union-represented operation in the Pacific Northwest.
Among the problems the story cited were cables missing in one plane's mid-fuselage section while in another wires were not connected. On another, plastic caps left on connectors damaged an electronics unit that had to be replaced. On yet another, workers found nearly 2,000 incomplete jobs, including wiring and hydraulics, that were supposed to have been done in North Charleston but were not.
The problems' causes are threefold, the newspaper reported.
Last spring, Boeing let go most of its North Charleston temporary hires, many of them experienced aviation workers.
Then, it introduced production for some of the parts on its new 787-9, a stretch version of the passenger jet, to the North Charleston operation. The 787-9 is assembled in Washington state, but Boeing plans to produce it locally starting this fall.
Lastly, it ramped up production of the 787 to 10 a month from seven a month late last year, further complicating production at the fledgling North Charleston site.
The story goes on to say not all of the problems are the fault of the workforce in North Charleston.
Written plans used by mechanics were produced quickly in the early phases of the program and are filled with errors and omissions, according to the newspaper account. Doors installed in North Charleston have to be re-rigged in Everett because of small changes in the shape of the plastic fuselage sections in the assembly process. The sections flex slightly in flight, when fitted with other sections and when landing gear is installed.
Last month, a spokeswoman at the local Boeing plant beside Charleston International Airport confirmed the site was hiring a "surge" of temporary workers to meet production goals for the 787.
Even with its increased production rate for the wide-body passenger jet, the company plans to boost production even further in two years to 12 a month and in 2019 to 14 a month to meet a backlog of orders.
As of late January, the company had built 155 Dreamliners and delivered 115 to customers from its 787 plane-building operations in North Charleston and Everett. More than 1,000 787s have been ordered by airlines worldwide.
When issues on production problems first arose last month, Boeing said in a statement it is meeting its production rates with plans to make improvements. The company does not break down how many planes are built in North Charleston and how many are built in Everett in its 10-a-month goal.
"While we have some challenges to address, we see no risk to the program's ability to meet its commitments," Boeing said. "As a general rule we typically do not publicly share specific details of our production operations."
The Post and Courier's policy is to avoid using unnamed sources. Boeing did not respond to a request for an interview with a high-ranking official to address its production problems or to counter the pummeling of the image of its North Charleston operation.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
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