Boeing moved two major fuselage sections for the first 787-10 to its North Charleston final assembly plant on Wednesday, a production milestone for the newest and largest member of the Dreamliner family.
During a ceremony for Boeing employees, the mid-body and aft cabin structures were rolled into the building. The third section, the forward fuselage, is being made at Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kan., and will be brought to North Charleston.
The three pieces will be assembled and the plane moved to the adjacent flightline for testing in 2017. Delivery of the first 787-10 is scheduled the following year.
"It's an emotional day in terms of seeing this come to life," said Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina. "I love airplanes, so this is a big day for me."
While the earlier 787-8 and 787-9 models are built in North Charleston and a second Boeing campus in Everett, Wash., the 787-10 will be built exclusively by Boeing South Carolina because the mid-body is too large to transport to the West Coast.
"This is a watershed day for the company, the state and the region," said Darrel Larson, the build integration leader for Boeing's 787-10 program. "This airplane will only be built here in North Charleston. Pieces will continue to be built around the globe in our supply chain, but the 787-10 will only fly out of North Charleston."
According to reports, Singapore Airlines will get the first 787-10, although the first plane that's delivered might not be the first one that's built. The Asian carrier has already ordered 30 of the planes.
Nine customers have placed 154 orders for the 787-10 which, at 224 feet, is a stretched version of the earlier and best-selling 787-9 model. Both models are about 95 percent identical, which is expected to simplify the production process for the newer version.
"We are introducing the Dash-10 into a production system that is building 12 (jets) a month," Larson said. "This airplane will move right into the production system."
The 787-10 can carry up to 330 passengers and is the most expensive Dreamliner at a list price of $306.1 million, although buyers typically negotiate discounts.
One of the 787-10's biggest potential customers is Dubai-based Emirates, which has said it plans to buy up to 100 wide-body planes from Boeing or its France-based competitor, Airbus. That announcement is probably a year away because Emirates has said it won't need the planes until after the start of the next decade.
Bert van Leeuwen, managing director of aviation research at Amsterdam-based DVB Bank, said in a report that the 787-10 could jumpstart Boeing's Dreamliner program. Sales of wide-body planes like the Dreamliner have slowed in recent years as airlines hold off on big-ticket purchases while fuel prices remain low. The Dreamliner is made of lightweight, composite materials and fuel efficiency is one of its key selling points.
"As the youngest member of the 787 family, there should be plenty of sales potential in years to come," van Leeuwen said in his annual industry review and outlook.
All told, there have been 1,208 orders through October for Boeing's Dreamliner family, with the 787-9 accounting for more than half of those sales. Boeing is expected to deliver its 500th Dreamliner before the end of this year.