787-9 makes dashing debut at Boeing South Carolina

The first 787-9 made at Boeing South Carolina features United Airlines’ logo on the tail section. The plane was parked on the tarmac outside the final assembly plant Tuesday.

The first Dash-9 Dreamliner to be built at Boeing Co.’s North Charleston campus rolled off the production line Monday and is slated for delivery to United Airlines in early March, Boeing officials said Tuesday.

“What this final assembly team has accomplished is incredible,” Eric Van Avery, final assembly director for Boeing South Carolina, told employees in a statement Tuesday. “Just like in football, teams who prepare in advance succeed on game day,” he said, adding that a plan for the first 787-9 assembly began last July and that “the team executed the plan flawlessly.”

“Now, we get to delight our delivery center customer by delivering a clean airplane ahead of schedule,” Van Avery said.

Boeing announced that United would be North Charleston’s first 787-9 customer when the plane went into final assembly just before Thanksgiving.

United is Boeing’s largest North American customer for Dreamliners, and this plane will be the fourth delivery of a Dash-9 model. The airline already has two 787-9s in its fleet with a third — made at the company’s Everett, Wash., plant — scheduled for delivery next month, according to the “All Things 787” blog written by Wall Street banker and Dreamliner tracker Uresh Sheth.

In addition, United has a dozen 787-8 models in its fleet, according to the airline’s website.

“The 787-9 builds on the Dreamliner’s fuel-efficiency and customer comfort while giving us even more flexibility and range,” Ron Baur, United’s vice president of fleet, said in a statement. “Last year, our customers gave the 787 the highest customer-satisfaction scores of any aircraft in our fleet, and we know they’ll enjoy what the 787-9 has to offer.”

In a conference call earlier this month, John Rainey, the carrier’s chief financial officer, said the airline will take delivery of 11 Dash-9s this year as part of a $3.2 billion capital spending program.

The Dash-9 is 20 feet longer than the original 787-8 and can fly up to 40 more passengers. It’s 20 percent more fuel-efficient, with 20 percent fewer emissions than airplanes it will replace, according to Boeing.

The extended range of the Dash 9 — 8,550 miles compared to the 787-8’s 8,200 miles — allowed United to launch its Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia, service last fall. It will be the airline’s first regularly scheduled international deployment of the aircraft and the longest Dreamliner route in the world to date.

United officials did not immediately respond to questions about the planned route for the South Carolina-made Dash-9.

United’s 787-9s are configured with 252 seats – 48 in business class and 204 in economy class, including 88 “economy plus” seats with added legroom and increased personal space.

All told, United has ordered 65 Dreamliners, including 27 of the 787-10 model that will be produced solely in North Charleston beginning in 2017. The airline has not addressed speculation that it plans to swap 10 orders for the Dash-10 for Boeing’s 777-300ER, a 386-seat twin-aisle airplane that can fly 7,825 nautical miles.

American Airlines also has bet much of its future on the Dreamliner, with 42 orders of the jet, including 16 of the 787-8 and 26 of the 787-9 models. American took delivery of its first Dreamliner last week, with its first passenger flight scheduled for sometime during the second quarter of this year.

The North Charleston factory assembles the 787-8 and the 787-9 twin-aisle aircraft along with Boeing’s larger factory in the Pacific Northwest. The Everett site is scheduled to turn out seven Dreamliners each month, while the North Charleston plant assembles three every month. North Charleston’s production quota is scheduled to increase to five a month in 2016 and then to seven a month in 2019.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_