Deliveries of 787s at risk

Boeing South Carolina is assembling less than two 787 Dreamliners a month. It’s working its way up to three a month.

The federal government shutdown could delay future deliveries of the 787 Dreamliners that Boeing makes in North Charleston.

The reason: the Federal Aviation Administration staffers who handle the certification of new aircraft are among the 15,514 employees furloughed at the agency.

The upshot is that the delivery of some of Boeing’s planes with new components or new configurations, including the 787s assembled near Charleston International Airport, could be slowed or delayed, company spokesman John Dern said.

Boeing said Thursday that it delivered 23 Dreamliners in the third quarter, bringing the total for the year so far to 40 from North Charleston and the company’s other 787 assembly plant in Everett, Wash.

Problems with the aircraft’s lithium batteries grounded the fleet earlier this year and stopped deliveries for several months. Boeing still expects customers to pick up at least 60 of the sleek new aircraft this year.

Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said the company does not break down how many planes it delivers by location. She also wouldn’t say whether North Charleston delivered any 787s since July.

Customers picked up just five aircraft last month, but some deliveries were held over for various reasons. October’s numbers are expected to improve if the FAA furloughs don’t persist.

The North Charleston assembly plant is completing about 1.5 787s per month but it expects to ramp up production to three a month within a year, Boeing South Carolina Vice President and General Manager Jack Jones said during a business luncheon Thursday in Charleston.

Originally, the aerospace giant had hopes of making three a month in North Charleston by the end of 2013. It has since said it’s still on track to meet its broader goal of producing 10 787s a month by January between the two factories.

Boeing, which employs 6,100 workers locally, is buying 267 acres near Charleston International to expand its local footprint. Jones said there are no immediate plans for land except for the 23 acres that house the S.C. Research Authority building that the company now owns.

Jones and Eslinger declined to say what the property will be used for, but an announcement will be made within the next month.

One possibility is that a paint facility will be built on the site so Boeing won’t have to fly its South Carolina-made planes to Texas for the final coatings before delivering them.

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On a separate issue, Jones said a decision by Boeing on where to locate the final assembly and wing fabrication for the 777X, a new version of the 777 wide-body now built in Everett, Wash., could be made by the end of the year.

Boeing is expected to formally launch the 777X program at the Dubai Air Show next month.

Washington state officials are making a fevered pitch to keep production of the long-range jet in the Puget Sound area. South Carolina is also in the running.

Jones offered no clues Thursday on the site selection, but he said it’s important that South Carolina’s higher education institutions produce a labor pool of engineers and technical workers to support the North Charleston campus, where another 2,000 workers are expected by 2020.

“We are not offering low-tech jobs,” Jones said. “We don’t want Boeing to have to go outside the state to recruit its labor.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.