Boeing updating 787 landing systems

Look out below: Boeing Co. is bringing the next generation of plane-landing technology to the Lowcountry. Here a 787 lands at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., Friday, April 5, 2013.

Mark Mulligan

Look out below: Boeing Co. is bringing the next generation of plane-landing technology to the Lowcountry.

It’s called a ground-based augmentation system, or GBAS, and it’s a kind of global positioning system that new planes like the Dreamliner jets Boeing makes in North Charleston will use to descend safely through fog or very low clouds.

“It’s for the 787 specifically,” Boeing South Carolina general manager Jack Jones said.

Part of the Dreamliner’s auto-landing system, the new technology replaces the previous instrument landing system that’s standard on other planes, Jones said. Boeing South Carolina has been using a portable GBAS for its Dreamliners, but now it’s time for a permanent solution.

The upgrade requires some new ground equipment to be installed near the Boeing South Carolina campus.

Trident Construction notified Charleston County this month that it has begun installing five “antenna bases and mats, underground electrical duct banks, and a pre-engineered shelter to house equipment” near the 787 factory at Charleston International Airport.

“When it does go public, we’ll be one of the only airports that has it,” said Sean Tracey, director of special projects for the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which owns and operates the airport. “Because Boeing funded it, it’s here.”

It’s been more than five months since Boeing South Carolina delivered a 787. For those with short memories, it was right around New Year’s, and it was to Air India.

Since then, the North Charleston plant’s flight line has really filled up.

As of early Tuesday, there were seven jets along the ramp: one painted for Air India, two painted for Hainan Airlines of China and four more unpainted jets, one each for Air India and Hainan, and two for China Southern, according to All Things 787’s tracker chart.

One more South Carolina-built jet flew to Texas over the weekend to get painted.

Representatives of those airlines should soon be coming from Asia to pick up their planes, but as Boeing often says, it’s up to the customers when that happens. Until then, it’s a packed house, inside and out, at the local plane factory complex.

The Boeing 787 will be the subject of another Congressional hearing today. The House Subcommittee on Aviation will convene at 10 a.m. to discuss “lessons learned” from the 787’s battery problems this year.

Federal lawmakers will hear from the 787 program’s chief engineer and a top official from the Federal Aviation Administration, which grounded the new jet from January through April after a pair of smoky battery malfunctions.

The hearing follows Senate and National Transportation Safety Board hearings and an NTSB forum, all in April.

An earlier version of this story misstated how many months it’s been since Boeing South Carolina delivered one of its 787 Dreamliners to a customer airline. It’s been more than five months since the last local 787 delivery.