United Airlines 787-10 (copy)

United Airlines was among the carriers that helped Boeing Co. set a record with 145 787 Dreamliner deliveries in 2018. An increase in production from 12 to 14 planes per month could help the aerospace giant set another delivery record this year. Provided/United Airlines

After delivering an all-time-high 145 Dreamliner jets last year, Boeing Co. 787 plants in North Charleston and the Seattle area are expected to repeat their record-setting performance in 2019.

That's largely because of the production increase from 12 to 14 jets per month.

Boeing won't say exactly when the rate will tick up, if it hasn't already, citing the "quiet period" prior to next week's quarterly and year-end earnings report.

But the company's North Charleston campus started preparing for the boost in 2018 and planned to hire hundreds of people to support the higher rate.

It's not clear how many people now work at Boeing South Carolina because the aerospace firm hasn't updated the annual labor report on its website.

It's likely Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg will address the ramp-up during his Jan. 30 teleconference with financial analysts.

In the meantime, analyst Uresh Sheth, who tracks Dreamliner production on his All Things 787 website, said he thinks Boeing "will break rate by mid-February and start delivering at 14 per month around early April."

Sheth notes that many Boeing suppliers are already producing components at the higher rate.

With more Dreamliners rolling out of the factory, Sheth said he expects Boeing will deliver 164 of the wide-body jets in 2019.

That's four shy of the 14-per-month rate, but "it is one thing to assemble the aircraft at 14 per month and another matter when delivering the product at that rate," he said.

Sheth's delivery breakdown, by plant and model, looks like this:

Boeing South Carolina will deliver a total of 85 Dreamliners: one 787-8, 50 787-9s and 34 787-10s, which are built exclusively at the North Charleston campus. Everett will deliver 79 Dreamliners: 9 787-8s and 70 787-9s.

Sheth isn't entirely convinced Boeing will be able to book enough new orders to keep cranking out 14 Dreamliners per month, a rate that would eat through the production backlog by September 2022.

"I believe that if they get fewer than 144 net orders per year for the next two years, Boeing will be forced to reduce the production rate to 12 per month," he said.


A close up of the electric arc furnace at Liberty Steel Georgetown. Nadea Celac/South Strand News

Doubling down

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United Kingdom-based Liberty Steel says it wants to restart the second electric-arc furnace at its mill in Georgetown, doubling the plant's annual wire rod-making capacity to 1 million tons.

British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta — whose GFG Alliance is the parent company to Liberty Steel — made the announcement last week when he visited the subsidiary's latest acquisition, Keystone Consolidated Industries in Peoria, Ill.

"The U.S. is the largest exporter of scrap and the largest importer of steel in the world, so clearly there is an opportunity to produce more steel in the U.S. for the local market from domestic scrap, and we intend to seize this opportunity," Gupta said.

The Georgetown site, which had been shuttered for nearly three years under previous owner ArcelorMittal, was fired back up in June by Liberty Steel. The restart put about 125 mill employees back to work, with long-range plans to hire 320 people as orders from the automotive and construction industries increase.

Ag exports

C&M Hog Farm in Latta is expanding its transload facility to bring more soybeans and other products to the Port of Charleston through the authority's inland port in Dillon.

The expansion will "provide farmers with a new, competitive access point to the global marketplace as well as bring new jobs to Dillon County," said Richard Myers, who co-operates the facility with Leslie Thompson.

The demand for facilities to transload Carolinas agricultural products — including grains, peanuts and animal feeds — has increased significantly since the inland port opened last year. The Dillon facility offers next-day rail service to the Charleston port, where agricultural products can be exported to overseas markets.

Established in 1987, C&M is an independent hog farm, local grain elevator and trucking company. 

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_