Boeing tops-out, rocks-out new Dreamliner plant

Charleston Regional Business Journal
Daniel Brock
September 24, 2010

As cranes began to lift the last two pieces of structural steel into place at Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner final assembly and delivery center in North Charleston, the opening strains of Van Halen’s 1986 hit “Dreams” simultaneously rose from a P.A. system stationed nearby.

Heavy metal, indeed.

Now, 10 months and three days after Boeing and design-builder BE&K/Turner broke ground on the 1.2-million-square-foot facility, its steel framework — all 18,000 tons of it — is complete.

“By this time next year, the final assembly building will be complete, and we will have begun production of the first South Carolina-built 787 Dreamliner. That is tremendous — from green-field site to airplane production in about 18 months,” said Marco Cavazzoni, Boeing’s vice president and general manager of 787 final assembly and delivery.

Construction on the $750 million facility is on schedule, officials said, with production of the first jet to begin in July 2011 and first delivery in first-quarter 2012. When running at full strength, the line will pump out three 787s per month.

By then, North Charleston will be one of just three sites worldwide, along with Everett, Wash., and Toulouse, France, that produces wide-body commercial jetliners.

A string of officials, including Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, spoke to a sizeable crowd of invitees and thanked the more than 1,000 workers in attendance for erecting the massive building at such a breathtaking pace.

More than 2,700 construction workers have gone through orientation at the site.

BE&K Building Group chairman Luther Cochrane describe the building as “the most magnificent that you’re going to see anywhere.” BE&K, along with Turner Construction Co. and engineering firm BRPH make up the project’s design-build team.

The next milestone in the facility’s march toward completion is finishing its outer shell, which is scheduled to happen in February.

While Boeing has announced an interior fixtures plant in the area and hinted at further expansion in the future, Cavazzoni said the company was focused on the Dreamliner facility.

“We have to get this right first,” he said.

Hiring continues for positions at the final assembly and delivery center, which will open with 1,000 employees, a number that could eventually rise to 3,800. Boeing South Carolina already employs more than 3,000 in current operations on its 240-acre campus.
Cavazzoni downplayed rumors that airlines have balked at the prospect of producing planes at the Charleston facility, which doesn’t have the proven track record of the Everett plant.
“We’ve not dealt with that,” he said, and added that consumer customizations will be the only difference between the products that roll of the two lines.
But some industry experts contend the situation is very real.

“The engineering and materials knowledge skills in Everett are far higher, and customers are concerned that Charleston-built 787s won’t have the same standard like Everett for a few years until production is stabilized, skills improve and more workers are employed,” said Saj Ahmad, an analyst at the London-based consulting firm FBE Aerospace.

The mood Friday was festive and congratulatory at the topping out ceremony.

“This event is a major milestone in the project,” Sanford said. “And probably things to come.”

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