Boeing is wrapping up their 787 Dreamliner production in Everett, Washington, in March. That is four months earlier than planned. February will see the last Everett made Dreamliner. After that, production of the Dreamliner will shift to North Charleston in South Carolina.
Dominic Gates, writing for The Seattle Times, broke the news and cited an internal Boeing memo by Lane Ballard, general manager of the 787 program and the boss at the North Charleston factory.
“Production and delivery consolidation in South Carolina … will take place in March 2021,” said Mr Ballard. The Boeing executive also confirmed that Dreamliner production would slide back to five a month to coincide with the move. Boeing will continue to build its 747, 777, and 767 aircraft at Everett.
A mid-2021 date brought forward to March
Just three months ago, Boeing confirmed it would end Dreamliner production in Everett. However, at the time, Boeing said the shift would not occur until mid-2021. Around 1000 people work on the Dreamliner at Everett. Fortunately, their continued employment at Boeing seems assured for the time being. Most are likely to remain on the books. While Boeing doesn’t plan to offer them work in North Charleston, quality control work on the 787s will continue at Everett after March.
Boeing calls the quality control work “join verification” – a reference to the well-publicized problems Boeing’s had with fuselage joins on the Dreamliners. There is a build-up of finished Dreamliners needing “join verification.” This will apparently take some time.
“Airplanes that are stored until delivery, and airplanes currently in our production system, will go through this join verification process,” Ballard wrote. Earlier this month, it was reported Boeing had approximately 60 Dreamliners completed and in storage, awaiting inspections and delivery to customers.
“Stored airplanes assembled in Everett will go to Everett for join inspection and delivery, and stored airplanes assembled in South Carolina will go to South Carolina for join inspection and delivery.”
The decision will see all 787 manufacturing done at North Charleston
To date, Boeing has been assembling their 787 Dreamliners in Everett, North Charleston, Kansas, and Japan. With assembly only occurring in North Charleston and the three outstations used for quality control purposes, that will now change. By bringing Dreamliner production back to one site, Boeing may overcome many of the production issues dogging the aircraft’s manufacture.
Boeing’s North Charleston factory is non-unionized. It runs with lower operating and labor costs than at Everett. Mr Ballard didn’t say why Boeing was bringing the move to North Charleston forward, but it will save the cash-strapped aircraft manufacturer money in the long run.
A chance to draw a line under a troubled production program
After a tough year, Boeing is seeing some rays of light. The 737 MAX saga drew to a halt with the Federal Aviation Administration clearing the trouble-plagued aircraft to fly again in the United States. Consequently, several airlines are planning to resume MAX flight, and two significant MAX orders were made in December.
While the Dreamliner never hit the headlines to the extent the MAX did, quality issues have caused significant ongoing issues and seen aircraft grounded. The move to consolidate assembly in North Charleston could be seen as an attempt to draw a line under the Dreamliner’s problems and start afresh. It will certainly be easier to keep an eye on quality with aircraft only coming out of one factory.