Boeing S.C. reaches cruising altitude with 787-9, new plants

Boeing South Carolina is assembling a 787-9 jetliner for Scoot, a low-fare Singapore airline that flies mostly to Australia and China. It’s one of several “Dash 9” models in production at the North Charleston factory.

Boeing South Carolina’s first 787-9 Dreamliner emerged from the main hangar in North Charleston just a few weeks ago.

It won’t be the last.

In fact, the plant’s second “Dash-9” — like the first, it is for United Airlines — was parked on the flight line off Aviation Avenue on Tuesday.

Nearby, inside the huge final-assembly plant, crews were putting the finishing touches on several other 787-9s for the likes of Norwegian Air, Kenyan Airlines and Scoot, a low-cost offshoot of Singapore Airlines.

“It’s an international fleet,” said Willy Geary, vice president for operations at Boeing South Carolina.

The planemaker opened its factories at Charleston International Airport to local media outlets Tuesday to give an update on its business and activities.

The addition of the Dash 9 to the local production line was among the most visible changes. The first to be made in North Charleston rolled off the line in late January and is now being painted by an out-of-state supplier. The jet will return to the local campus before being turned over to United.

The Dash 9 is the second-generation version of Boeing Co.’s newest passenger jet. It’s 20 feet longer than the original 787-8 and can seat up to 40 more passengers. It’s also 20 percent more fuel-efficient, with 20 percent fewer emissions than the planes it will replace, according to the company.

The extended range — 8,550 nautical miles compared to 8,200 miles for the Dash 8 — allowed United to launch service between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, last fall.

Boeing said the stretch version now accounts for 44 percent of its existing Dreamliner orders. About 43 percent are for the original model. The rest of the bookings are for the next and longest derivative, the 787-10, which will be made exclusively in North Charleston.

Geary said the numbers “have not bounced around that much” from customers deciding to switch their 787-8 orders to the Dash 9.

“We tend to see when a new model comes out, that customers will shift to the larger model,” Geary said. “But demand for ‘The 8’ is still strong. ... Time will tell.”

Among other highlights of the past year, the Dreamliner production rate in North Charleston reached the stated goal of three jets a month, said Jack Jones, who recently announced he is retiring as vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina.

The well-publicized local production problems that dogged the 787 launch have “essentially gone away,” he added.

“A lot of those are behind us,” Jones said.

Also, the company has expanded the North Charleston factory where it makes all the aft-fuselage sections for the Dreamliner, which also is assembled in Everett, Wash.

Last week, Boeing South Carolina marked the opening of a new plant off Ladson Road that will make engine parts for the 737 MAX and handle some design work for the 777. It’s also starting work on a full-blown painting facility off International Boulevard that will eliminate the need to fly all locally made jetliners to either Louisiana or California.

“Where are we at today? I’ll make it simple: firing on all cylinders,” Jones said.

Looking ahead, he said, the North Charleston plant is prepared to meet Boeing’s accelerated production schedule for the 787. Boeing South Carolina’s quota increases to five Dreamliners a month in 2016 and then to seven a month by the end of the decade.

“We think this team is ready,” Jones said.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.