After years of delay, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner program, including its critical North Charleston campus, is now flying on schedule.
That was the message a pair of top company executives delivered Monday during a conference call with investors.
Dreamliner production and deliveries have increased as planned this year, they said, and another doubling of the 787 production rate and beginning final assembly of the stretch 787-9 next year are also on track. Boeing is also nearly ready to officially launch a so-called double-stretch Dreamliner, the 787-10, but is not quite there, the officials said.
Starting this month, Boeing is producing five base model 787-8s per month between its final assembly line in North Charleston and two lines in Everett, Wash.
"It's been a great year so far, and we look forward to the coming months ahead of us as we continue to operate at five airplanes a month and continue to position ourselves to bring on the (787)-9 and ramp up to 10 airplanes a month," said Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program.
Loftis and his boss at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Pat Shanahan, senior vice president and general manager of airplane programs, provided the updates in response to a series of questions from Rob Stallard, aerospace analyst for RBC Capital Markets.
As of last week, Boeing had delivered 38 Dreamliners to eight customers, Loftis said, including 35 this year, the low end of the company's projection for the year.
The company has more than 800 orders pending for the Dreamliner, which had been slated for entry into service in 2008 before serial technical and supply chain snags cropped up.
Loftis said the North Charleston plant would be producing about 30 percent of the planes while the final assembly plants in Everett would be producing the rest.
The aft- and mid-body factories at Charleston International Airport will make parts for the 787-9 next year. The final assembly facility is capable of putting them together but when and how many has not been announced.
Boeing South Carolina is already producing fuselage components for the 787-8 and has rolled out five assembled planes, only one of which has been delivered so far, to Air India last month. The rest sit on the North Charleston flight line.
Shanahan said "the learning in Charleston's been very good for a new site."
"The learning has been quick, and one of the things we've tried to maintain is sharing all of our best practices from here in Everett back to Charleston," Shanahan said, "and you know what we've found is they'll develop their own best practices because we've had that open communication of information flowing back and forth pretty freely."
Air India, which after a summer of delays has taken a total of three Dreamliners, was supposed to take another from North Charleston last month. But the cash-strapped national carrier has still not taken the fourth plane of its 27-jet order. The third SC-built jet took another test flight Saturday.
"Every day we're getting more predictable on being able to deliver airplanes," Loftis said. He said Boeing's delivery delays this year have only been days, not months, and they're not "systemic."
"Really the gist of the delays is ... we're still learning, frankly," he said.
The executives Monday confirmed the possibility that the North Charleston campus, whose aft-body factory is undergoing expansion over the next year, could play a role in eventually producing more than the planned 10 per month by late 2013.
"If you look at our final assembly facilities, we have more capacity, just in terms of brick and mortar," Shanahan said. "So Charleston is sized to be larger. The question really is more the supply chain which we've facilitized to 10 per month. We know from experience that there is untapped capacity, but it's more incremental. Is it 10 percent? Is it 20 percent? It's probably not 100 percent. So it all depends on how quickly or how rapidly we'd need to add capacity."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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