Some teams at Boeing's North Charleston plant are producing their parts for the 787 Dreamliner faster than the overall pace of the program, a top company executive reported this week.
Speaking to the Goldman Sachs Global Industrials Conference on Thursday, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said he is "very encouraged" by the South Carolina mid- and aft-body operations, which are performing above the Everett, Wash., assembly line's production rate of 2.5 airplanes per month.
"Those two operations are performing very, very well," Albaugh said. "In fact, many of the work cells that we have there are performing at about 3.5 airplanes a month, and we've also demonstrated in one or two areas that we can sustain the 10 airplanes a month rate that we'll need when we go to peak."
Boeing bought the two facilities from Vought Aircraft Industries and Global Aeronautica for about $1 billion in 2009 in an effort to better control its problematic global supply chain. But Albaugh said that those operations have now shown they can make their fuselage sections at the late-2013 target rate.
"I think the real challenge that we're going to have in South Carolina is not manufacturing the fuselage, it's going to be installing the wire cables and the boxes and the subsystems," he said.
Albaugh also revealed South Carolina's first Dreamliner, the first Boeing commercial airplane to be assembled outside of Washington state and scheduled to be the 46th 787, is officially in one piece.
"We put the airplane on the gear in the last couple of days, all the final joins have been done, and we expect to fly the first airplane out of Charleston sometime in the middle of the year," Albaugh said, referring to 2012.
Those updates were part of Albaugh's generally positive appraisal of the aerospace giant's campus at Charleston International Airport. Challenges remain, to be sure, but Albaugh said the Dreamliner's ramp-up program is on track.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that getting up to rate is not going to be a challenge," he said, "but at the same time we wouldn't put together a plan if we didn't think it was achievable."
There also has been progress at the North Charleston Boeing campus outside the production and assembly facilities.
Late last month, the 10 acres of solar panels on the roof of the final assembly building went live. The annual energy output will be 3,500 megawatt-hours, which is the annual usage of 250 homes served by S.C. Electric & Gas, according to Boeing.
In a related but separate matter, Boeing South Carolina was ranked 14th place on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Fortune 500 list of the largest renewable power purchasers last month.
Two employee shops also opened in October. Both housed in the centrally located "Hub" building, one sells Boeing sundries, and the other offers dry-cleaning, shipping and other services.
And on Friday, the campus delivery center, where 787 buyers will pick up their South Carolina-made Dreamliners beginning next year, will officially open.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.