The turbulent launch of Boeing's 787 jet appears to be smoothing out.
Boeing Co. on Wednesday said that its suppliers for the new lightweight plane -- a far-flung group of industries that includes two North Charleston factories -- have "dramatically" improved the completion rate for the aircraft assemblies they are sending to Washington state to be pieced together.
"We're getting near the point they're coming in 100 percent fully assembled," said Jim McNerney, chief executive officer.
At the same time. McNerney reiterated Boeing's goal of handing over the first 787 Dreamliner to Japan's ANA in the third quarter, saying he has confidence in the previously stated delivery schedule.
The airplane maker has pushed back the first delivery of the 787 seven times. The jet is about three years behind schedule.
One reason is that many of the worldwide suppliers working on the 787 struggled early on to finish their parts by the time they were to be picked up for delivery to Everett, Wash. A steady influx of partly equipped components required Boeing to complete the work itself, contributing to the delays.
McNerney said the improved completion rates within the supply chain has eased the logjams in Everett.
"The amount of rework is decreasing dramatically with each new airplane that comes in," he said during a conference call with analysts.
McNerney did not discuss individual suppliers.
In North Charleston, two side-by-side Boeing factories produce major fuselage sections for the 787, which to date has racked up 835 orders.
The aerospace giant also will assemble up to three Dreamliners a month by late 2013 at a new $750 million production line it is building at Charleston International Airport. The larger Everett plant will ramp up to seven planes a month from two right now over that same period
McNerney acknowledged that boosting production to 10 jets every four weeks ill be "a significant challenge." Suppliers will be critical, he said.
"The key to this whole thing is condition of assembly ... coming into our factory," he said. "That looks like it is on track." A spokesperson for the company's local operations could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Boeing is still fine-tuning the 30 Dreamliners that already have rolled off the Puget Sound line, partly to fix design issues that arose during various tests and check flights, including the replacement of some fasteners.
McNerney downplayed the significance of those modifications, which required the company to set up a "factory within a factory" in San Antonio, Texas, to handle the extra work.
"It's not a big scramble ... where people are running from one airplane and running to another airplane, trying to read engineering drawings (and) figure things out. We have a systemized standard approach that has been set up," he said.
With the first delivery apparently on schedule, Barclays Capital analyst Joseph F. Campbell Jr. told the Associated Press that he believes executives are turning their attention to speeding up production.
"In order to get this plane to quit losing money, they can't build two a month. They need to move in the direction of 10 or 12 or 14," he said.
During Wednesday's conference call, McNerney and finance chief James Bell did not address the National Labor Relations Board lawsuit that is seeking to force Boeing to establish its second 787 line in Everett instead of North Charleston.
The federal agency alleges the company picked South Carolina for the plant to retaliate against a union.
The update on the 787 came as Boeing released its first-quarter financial results. its profit rose 13 percent to $586 million, enough to beat Wall Street's expectations. Revenue slipped 2 percent to $14.9 billion. Boeing also reaffirmed its earnings and revenue guidance for the full year.
Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.