Charleston lands some Boeing 777X design work

Boeing Co. is preparing to launch two updated versions of its successful long-haul 777 jetliner, partially shown here at an 2005 air show in Paris. At least some of the 777X will be designed in North Charleston.

Engineers from South Carolina, four other states and Russia will handle detailed design work on Boeing’s new 777X passenger jet, not those in Washington state where technical experts have helped design the company’s aircraft for decades.

Engineering teams in North Charleston; Huntsville, Ala.; Long Beach, Calif.; Philadelphia; and St. Louis have been selected, Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said. A design center in Moscow will also play a part.

The role of Seattle-area engineers was not included in a memo sent to engineers Wednesday.

“At this time, no decisions have been made about 777X design or build in Puget Sound,” Eslinger said.

The wide-body, long-range 777 passenger jet is currently built in Everett, Wash., near Seattle. The newer version, the 777X, a wider, longer-range, more fuel-efficient aircraft, is expected to begin production in 2017 or 2018.

The first plane could take flight by the end of the decade.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes recently established multiple engineering design centers, including North Charleston, as part of its long-term plan to support the Chicago-based aerospace giant’s growth and competitive strategy.

“BCA will utilize these engineering design centers, as well as engineers from non-BCA sites, to design the 777X,” Eslinger said. “Much of the detailed design will be carried out by Boeing engineering teams in Charleston (and other cities).”

Aviation analyst Scott Hamilton labeled the move part of Boeing’s continuing fight with the aerospace engineering union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

“This is more of their war against SPEEA,” Hamilton said. “Boeing has been moving jobs out of Washington state, and it continues to do so.”

The company’s North Charleston campus is not unionized.

The 777X design decision comes on the heels of a protracted dispute this year with the society, which represents Boeing engineers and other technical workers in Washington, California, Utah and Oregon. The membership was split over a contract and authorization of a strike.

Tom McCarty, president of the engineering union, said he doesn’t expect the decision to adversely affect work in Everett.

“It’s not unexpected that the 777X effort will be spread out to different locations, but I still expect much of the design and integration to take place in Washington state,” McCarty said.

Boeing has not decided where it will build the new 777X. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that as many as three sites are in the mix: Everett, North Charleston and an undisclosed location in the Southwest.

Boeing is buying 267 acres at Charleston International Airport for future expansion of its local campus. It has not said what it intends to do with the property.

The company is expected to launch the 777X at the Dubai Air Show Nov. 17-21. A decision on where to build the plane could be made by the end of the year.

Boeing makes parts for and assembles the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston, where it employs 6,100. It also plans to hire 2,000 more workers and invest another $1 billion by 2020 as part of a $120 million incentive deal with the state announced earlier this year.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or