Boeing delivery center going up

A construction crew at the Boeing Co. site in North Charleston works on the delivery center being built for the 787 jets that will be made there starting later this year.

Airlines that pay millions of dollars for their airplanes expect perfection.

That's the standard set for Boeing Co. workers in North Charleston who will oversee the last step in the aerospace giant's manufacturing process: the actual delivery of the passenger jets to be assembled at Charleston International Airport starting this year.

Construction workers on Tuesday bolted down the first upright steel column for a sleek delivery center building, where a local staff of about 300 employees eventually will put final touches on the new 787 Dreamliners.

As the airplanes emerges from the maw of the cavernous manufacturing plant, Boeing will only have a few weeks to test and prepare each one before formally handing it over to the buyer, said David Palmer, the delivery center's director.

"The best shape an airplane is in is the day of delivery," said Palmer, who began delivering airplanes for Boeing more than 30 years ago.

Boeing's top local executive, Marco Cavazzoni, said the three-story center will draw foreign dignitaries, engineers and airline executives to the Lowcountry -- probably for their first ever visit -- giving South Carolina worldwide exposure.

More than 90 percent of the aerospace giant's customers are international, Cavazzoni noted. Some will celebrate the newest additions to their fleets with lavish fanfare.

Once it opens in November, the delivery center will mark the third place in the world -- along with Boeing's manufacturing headquarters in Seattle and competitor Airbus's Toulouse plant in France -- where wide-body jets are formally turned over to airlines.

Boeing has said it expects to turn over the first South Carolina-made airplane in the first quarter of 2012. The first customer that will pick up its 787 in North Charleston has not been announced.

Workers began snapping together the delivery center's 600-ton steel frame on Tuesday morning. The center is being built in the shadow of Boeing's $750 million manufacturing plant, which will open in July.

Between the two new buildings, Boeing will have room to park up to seven Dreamliner jets in air-conditioned huts where workers will conduct more tests.

Boeing is reserving part of its delivery center as offices for visiting customers. Palmer said it's common for aircraft buyers to send representatives to Boeing's other manufacturing plants in Washington state to watch over the final assembly and inspections.

"It'll be their home away from home while they're here," he said.