Boeing CEO pleased with Charleston plant progress

Charleston Post and Courier
John McDermott
October 27, 2010

A successful launch of the 787 aircraft assembly plant in North Charleston could serve as springboard for future investment in the region by Boeing Co.

On a trip to South Carolina nearly a year to the day after the aerospace giant announced the $750 million investment at Charleston International Airport, Boeing’s chief executive officer said he is pleased with the progress he has seen, the work force and the political support.

“We are so delighted to be part of the landscape here,” said Jim McNerney, who also is Boeing’s president and chairman.

McNerney, who was in the Midlands on Tuesday to speak at a Columbia Urban League dinner, said he’s hopeful the 3,800-worker plant that the company is building in North Charleston will handle more Boeing business in the future.

The caveat is that the 787 plant must get off the ground smoothly. The North Charleston factory is expected to start building planes next year, with the factory’s first deliveries scheduled for early 2012.

“It’s a massive ramp-up job,” he said.

When the plant opens next summer, South Carolina will join Washington state and France as the only three places in the world where wide-body commercial airliners are assembled.

“Depending on the performance it could be the basis for significant new business,” McNerney said during an interview at the Governor’s Mansion. “It’s our judgment that all the ingredients are in place for this to become a very competitive plant.

“But like every plant we have, there’s an element of earning its way after it’s been stood up and is producing what we initially asked it to produce,” he added. “Obviously we’re placing a number of chips on the table here, so we see potential.”

The North Charleston plant will start out making three 787 Dreamliners a month. That number could increase later depending on demand, McNerney said.

To date, Boeing has racked up more than 800 orders for the 787, making it the most successful aircraft sales launch in history.

But the plane has been hobbled by delays. It is about three years behind schedule, with the first delivery set for early next year. The latest glitch surfaced with reports this week of problems with the Italian-made horizontal stabilizer.

“They’re not all perfectly in synch yet, that will come soon,” McNerney said of the huge number of 787 suppliers.

He described the choice to set up shop in mostly non-union South Carolina as a strategic decision. He has said previously that one key reason Boeing expanded its aircraft assembly business to North Charleston was to offset the impact of any future strikes in the Puget Sound area.

“So what we’re trying do is find those facilities and those work forces that when you add them all together produce the highest quality at a reasonable cost where deliveries can be promised and met,” he said. “Were willing to work with anything where that adds up together. And I like the addition in South Carolina.”

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