Boeing cuts ribbon on delivery center

Leroy Burnell // The Post and Courier

Boeing’s customer delivery center, which opened Friday, “is a shining example of government and private business working together for the same cause,” said company vice president Jack Jones.

Accompanied by Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and a flight-test Dreamliner whose fan blades spun in the morning breeze, Boeing on Friday officially opened its North Charleston campus delivery center, where airline customers will come to take custody of their new planes.

The ribbon-cutting marked the completion of major construction on the site just less than two years after Boeing broke ground on what was then a swamp.

Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, joked that his operation had not run out of buildings, but ribbon, which is "a really good thing," he said.

"It says that we're getting back to the fundamentals of what this whole site's here for, and that is we're going to get really focused on building airplanes," Jones said. "But not just building them. Now with this building we're going to deliver them as well."

The ceremony was a smaller -- and much colder -- version of the June event to open the centerpiece final assembly building. Hundreds of workers from Boeing's various local operations were on hand, some wearing neon yellow vests and others in NFL jerseys, a Friday tradition at the plant.

Company executives and local politicians spoke glowingly of their collaboration that made a grand concept into reality.

"This is a shining example of government and private business working together for the same cause," Jones said. Boeing received major tax incentives to expand in North Charleston.

State Sen. Glenn McConnell said the Charleston area has long been known for its harbor.

"But today, as Boeing becomes the game changer, our port is now a port not only for marine craft but aircraft," McConnell said.

It was a race to the finish, said Luther Cochrane, chairman and CEO of the KBR Building Group, which with Turner Construction Company formed the joint venture that built the delivery center and the final assembly building.

"We gave new meaning to 'just-in-time delivery,' but we got it done," he said, noting that a Halloween visit by Boeing's board of directors put extra pressure on his team to get the place in shape.

The sleek, three-story structure, covered in aluminum and glass, contains almost 58,000 square feet of office and event space for Boeing workers and their customers.

The front, which faces Aviation Avenue, is meant to look like Boeing's original headquarters in Puget Sound in Washington state; the back, which faces the rest of the campus, is anchored by a three-story glass atrium.

LED lights throughout the building can flash any airline's colors, and a third-floor outdoor viewing deck, accented by ceiling fans that look like propellers, overlooks the flight line.

It is the first Boeing delivery center to have passenger boarding bridges through which customers can walk directly onto their parked 787s.

Boeing officials would not say how much the building cost.

While the airframer and its customers will work out contractual terms and legal details inside, the planes in question undergo engine, fuel and other tests outside. In "ramp slang," Jones said, "We kick the tires, light the fires."

Though the building received a certificate of occupancy in mid-October, it is not completely done, Cochran conceded -- "99.9 percent" was his estimate. One of the building's elevators is not yet operational, and there are more cosmetic fixes, "polishing" in Cochrane's parlance, still to go.

Neither is the campus finished. Construction equipment still sits near the delivery center, and landscaping is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the first plane inside final assembly, which is expected to be delivered in the first half of next year, is fully joined and will get its landing gear "in a matter of days," Boeing General Counsel J. Michael Luttig revealed Friday.

"Things are really starting to hum," Jones said.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.