Boeing seeks factory in Charleston area for engineering, assembly of 737 MAX components

Boeing exectuive Nicole Piasecki is shown in 2011 discussing the planemaker’s plans to build the 737 MAX. (AP/Stephen Brashear/File)

Boeing Co. is seeking a new local factory to house engineers and assembly workers for the 737 MAX work it is bringing to the Lowcountry.

The company began soliciting bids from a small group of real estate developers and landlords for the project about a month ago.

The firm that wins the job won’t have much time. Boeing wants to move in to the proposed plant by next June, according to its request for proposals.

The company said it needs a site that can accommodate a 220,000-square-foot building and have enough land to expand the structure to 600,000 square feet. By comparison, Boeing’s centerpiece final assembly building in North Charleston is 1.2 million square feet.

Boeing also has said it will need 300 parking spaces with the ability to add 400 more later.

The request calls for 60,000 square feet of offices.

The site would have to be within 20 miles of Boeing South Carolina’s 787 Dreamliner campus at Charleston International Airport.

The company wants to finalize the lease by July 31. Offers are due Monday.

Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger confirmed the factory search Wednesday.

“On May 9, Boeing issued a request-for-proposal ... to select landlords/developers for a potential 737 MAX inlet engineering and assembly facility in (the) local area,” she said in a written statement. “We have begun soliciting bids at this time because of the potential lead times for permitting, design and construction.”

It’s the first commercial airplane work Boeing is bringing to South Carolina that’s not tied to the 787 Dreamliner.

It’s also the first time Eslinger has confirmed that the Charleston area will handle not only engineering of the 737 MAX nacelles, which include the circular inlets and carbon-reinforced composite pods that encase the engines, but also their assembly.

Last week, Boeing announced plans to establish new centers for commercial aircraft engineering design and propulsion in South Carolina. That news came just weeks after the company said it was bringing 20 workers here to do inlet work for the 737 MAX, work that is done by an outside supplier for the 737 NG now in production.

The MAX is a fourth version of Boeing’s best-selling, single-aisle passenger jet. The plane has amassed more than 1,000 orders and commitments from 16 customers since its launch in August 2011.

One difference from older versions of the 737 is that the MAX’s larger engines will cut fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 13 percent over today’s most fuel-efficient single-aisle airplanes, according to Boeing.

Other features include a new aerodynamic wingtip element that will produce less drag.

First delivery is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2017.

Boeing employs more than 6,000 workers at four factories in North Charleston that work on the 787.

Sign up for our new business newsletter

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.

Two plants at the airport, both of which are being expanded now, supply the mid- and aft-body fuselage structures.

Another in Palmetto Commerce Park, a fast-growing manufacturing corridor between Ashley Phosphate and Ladson Roads, makes interior components. The biggest local plant is the 787 final assembly building at Charleston International.

Boeing also assembles the 787 in Everett, Wash.

The aerospace giant recently committed to investing another $1.1 billion and creating 2,000 more jobs in South Carolina in exchange for $120 million in state money that can be used for land purchases and infrastructure work.

Charleston County has also agreed to reduce Boeing’s tax burden and to spend $80 million of the fees Boeing will be paying on road improvements around and between its factories.

Boeing is also poised to buy 320 acres from the Charleston County Aviation Authority, a deal that’s under review by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But based on the recent request for proposals, it apparently can’t wait for more factory space.

Check later or see Friday’s edition of The Post and Courier for more details.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572. Contact Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.