Pension plans for 68,000 nonunion Boeing workers, including about 1,000 in North Charleston, will end in 2015, the company announced Thursday.

Participating employees will be switched to a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan instead on Jan. 1, 2016.

The decision affects about 15 percnet of the 6,700 direct-hired Boeing South Carolina workers in North Charleston, company spokesman John Dern said.

"The reason it's relatively few is that all Boeing employees hired after 2009 are already part of the defined-contribution model," he said. "Of course, many in Charleston fall into that category since they are relative 'new hires.'"

All benefits earned in the pension plan before the transition will be paid to employees in retirement, and the company will continue to match employee savings in an existing 401(k) plan. Retirees already receiving pension benefits aren't affected.

The aerospace and defense giant has been moving away from pension plans to hold down costs and remain more competitive against French airplane-building firm Airbus. The move helps "Boeing to better predict and manage financial risks," the company said in a statement.

"Our objective in making this transition is twofold: continue providing an attractive, market-leading retirement benefit contributing to employees' retirement security, while also assuring our competitiveness by curbing the unsustainable growth of our long-term pension liability," said Tony Parasida, a Boeing senior vice president.

Similar changes were recently included in an eight-year contract extension ratified in January by members of the company's biggest union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 in Seattle and the IAM District 837 in St. Louis.

The narrow vote came with the promise that Boeing would build its new long-range passenger jet, the 777X, and its composite wings in the Puget Sound area after Boeing threatened to move the work elsewhere if the union didn't agree to the new contract.

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