News Column

Dreamliner May Get Built in North Carolina

June 17, 2013

Boeing's biggest news of the Paris Air Show is likely to be the launch of the 787-10, the third and largest model of the Dreamliner, which is expected Monday.

But Washington state could be out of luck when it comes to building the jet, interviews in Paris suggested Sunday.

Final assembly of the 787-10 may be exclusively in North Charleston, S.C., where two-thirds of the fuselage is also fabricated and assembled.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner was surprisingly noncommittal Sunday when asked whether the plane could be built in Everett.

And later that afternoon, at a reception in Paris for delegates to the air show from Washington, two state officials, speaking on background, said they have worried for some time that Everett won't get the 787-10 assembly work because of logistical constraints around production of the bigger jet.

Both observed that the new 787 final-assembly plant in South Carolina is big enough to fit four of the large 787-10s nose-to-tail, which they don't think is true in the two 787 assembly bays in Everett.

Boeing faces a key decision on how to manufacture the 787-10, one that will determine whether a big section of the jet can be transported to Everett.

Yet Conner said Sunday the company is still weighing what to do on that decision, leaving doubt as to whether Everett will get to build the jet.

Conner's remarks came at a round-table with reporters in Paris on the eve of the show. He was asked if Boeing, which plans to build the large mid-fuselage section of the 787-10 in South Carolina, will be able to fly that piece to Everett.

"We're still looking at that," Conner responded. "We haven't made the determination on that yet."

If the midsection is too big to fit inside the Dreamlifter, the modified 747 used to fly Dreamlifter sections to Everett, then the 787-10 will have to be assembled exclusively in South Carolina.

The possibility of not getting the 787-10 for Everett has for many months been worrying political officials in Washington state, including Alex Pietsch, head of Gov. Jay Inslee's aerospace office.

"We've been very curious as to whether assembly of (the 787-10) might take place exclusively in Charleston," said Pietsch. "We're hopeful it can be built in Everett along with the 787-8 and 787-9. But we recognize we may not get all of it."

Pietsch said the expectation is that over time Boeing's East and West Coast 787 assembly sites will reach parity in production.

Even if all the 787-10s were built in North Charleston, Everett would still expect to have plenty of work building -8s and -9s.

Conner's noncommittal answer seemed odd when the formal launch of the jet is imminent. It may be that Boeing is reserving judgment until South Carolina ramps up on building the current 787-8 model and proves it can do that work.

Double whammy

Everett's chances on the 787-10 may be spoiled by a double whammy of logistics issues.

The massive midsection on the initial 787-8 model of the Dreamliner family is already 84 feet long.

And though the second member of the Dreamliner family, the 787-9, has a 20-foot fuselage stretch overall, its mid-body section still fits inside the Dreamlifter. The first 787-9 midsection arrived in Everett from South Carolina just last month.

The 787-10 fuselage will be stretched another 18 feet. A circular barrel slice -- Conner referred to it as a "doughnut" -- has to be added to one of the existing sections.

Will it be added in the middle, potentially making that section too large to fly to Everett?

"We're weighing a number of different options," Conner said. "You could do the doughnut in the mid. You could do the doughnut in the aft."

Also, the new 787 final-assembly line building in Charleston has more room than the Everett assembly bays. It may have been built with the 787-10 in mind.

At Sunday's reception the delegates put on a brave face, asserting that Washington retains huge advantages in the industry with its almost 100-year legacy of aviation excellence.

They certainly didn't criticize Boeing, instead insisting its spreading of work around to other states only underlines how aggressively Washington needs to compete to retain the jet-maker and all the jobs that go with it at both Boeing and its suppliers.

"Boeing is increasingly in a competitive global environment, not just with Airbus," said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

"They have to make some very tough decisions. Our job is to make sure that to the extent possible, our region builds on its advantages and removes any impediments to Boeing," Constantine said.

"There's definitely a diversification going on with Boeing," he said. "Clearly other states are putting on a full-court press to attract our businesses. We need to get out there and sell."

Constantine said he'll spend Tuesday at the air show meeting with suppliers.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens -- who stepped in at the last minute to lead the delegation when Gov. Jay Inslee pulled out due to the state budget crisis -- said he'll have lunch Monday with Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and will bring up the issue of where the 787-10 will be assembled, along with "many others."

"We are hungry"

"We know we need to be hungry for every piece of Boeing's business," Larsen said. "We're ready to be hungry. We are hungry."

The head of Boeing's supply chain, Stan Deal, is due to attend a dinner hosted by Washington state in Paris on Wednesday.

Whether Washington will get to build the giant carbon composite wing of the proposed 777X jet, another undecided mystery, was already going to be a big talking point there.

Now the 787-10 assembly site will also be a hot topic.

But so far in Paris, there are no firm Boeing answers, only worries for Washington.

"We're watching closely and waiting," said Washington's Pietsch.


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Source: (c)2013 The Seattle Times Distributed by MCT Information Services


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