Federal regulators say a Russian airline that specializes in transporting heavy-duty cargo will be allowed to haul jet engines to Boeing Co.'s Dreamliner campuses to avoid end-of-the-year production delays.
The U.S. Department of Transportation this week approved an emergency exemption for Ulyanovsk, Russia-based carrier Volga-Dnepr to carry engines from GE Aviation's Evendale, Ohio, plant to the two 787 assembly sites in North Charleston and Everett, Wash.
Volga-Dnepr already has permission to fly cargo between Russia and the United States but not point-to-point within the U.S.
Volga-Dnepr applied for the exemption "as part of an effort to meet (GE's) delivery commitments to Boeing without causing undue delay in Boeing's production line."
"Failure to deliver the engines by air could delay production and subsequent delivery of Boeing airplanes, which would cause financial harm to GE Aviation, Boeing and their customers," Volga-Dnepr said in its application for the exemption.
The carrier added the exemption is necessary "to respond to an emergency created by unusual circumstances not arising in the normal course of business."
The application did not specify what the "unusual circumstances" are and a spokesperson for GE Aviation could not be reached for comment.
Boeing did not specifically address any production issues involving GE engines. Spokeswoman Libba Holland said in a statement: "We regularly work with our suppliers and use various transportation methods to deliver parts to support our production system."
Boeing has been beset by supplier issues this year, most notably on its 737 program but also on the 787, as it ramps up aircraft production. Boeing plans to build 14 of its wide-body 787 Dreamliners each month beginning next year, up from the current rate of 12 per month split between the North Charleston and Everett sites.
Volga-Dnepr said it plans to transport engines and other parts and equipment on An-124-100 aircraft, the world's second-largest military transport plane with a maximum payload of more than 330,000 pounds — almost twice that of a C-17 Globemaster. Only the An-225 can carry more cargo, and only one of those planes was ever built.
Volga-Dnepr said no civil aircraft operated by U.S. carriers are capable of carrying the oversized cargo and ground transportation is impractical because the engines are needed on an "expedited basis."
Production statistics compiled by analyst Uresh Sheth on his All Things 787 website show there are 11 Dreamliners — six in North Charleston, five in Everett — that will fly with General Electric engines and are listed as being either in final assembly or waiting on parts.
Each GE engine weighs about seven tons. Volga-Dnepr did not say how many engines it will be transporting, but said the deliveries will be made on eight flights between Columbus, Ohio, and the Dreamliner plants taking place in December, according to the application.
The carrier's Russian planes have touched down in North Charleston before. In 2007, the Department of Defense approved a $300 million, six-month contract with Volga-Dnepr to transport 38,000-pound mine-resistant vehicles from the Air Force base to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Boeing's Dreamliner can be outfitted with two engine types — the GEnx-1B and the Trent 1000 engines built by Rolls Royce.
Note: This story has been updated to reflect that there is a single plane with more cargo capacity than the An-124 fleet.