Boeing’s at-times controversial plant in North Charleston, S.C., has delivered a 787 jet to its customer, Air India, fulfilling for the first time the reason the plant was established. The delivery also stands as a notable accomplishment in the progress of the Dreamliner project: the jet builder acquired the onetime Vought Aircraft Industries aft-body plant and the Global Aeronautica mid-body plant, in expectation of a need for new capacity to build the high-profile commercial aircraft.
The Dreamliner is a wide-body twin-engine aircraft with long range and carrying capacity for 210 to 330 passengers. Boeing has said the Dreamliner is its most fuel-efficient commercial jet, with a structure based on a large volume of composite materials helping to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20% versus similar-size jets. A more advanced aerodynamic design than previous jets, more-electric systems, and modern engines add to the 787’s appeal to airlines.
The Boeing 787 is made primarily of advanced composites, the first commercial jet to adopt such materials so extensively, which requires some advanced machining and assembly equipment.
The 787 was conceived and planned over much of the past decade, and the decision to add capacity in South Carolina (a “right to work” state) drew anger from unionized workers at Boeing’s main commercial jet manufacturing complex, in Everett, Wash. The International Association of Machinists sued Boeing over the opening of the South Carolina plant, and the federal National Labor Relations Board charged Boeing with retaliation against the union on the same point. The problem was resolved when Boeing agreed to invest in new production capacity in the Northwest to produce its new 737MAX jets.
The 737MAX is family of single-aisle commercial jets Boeing plans to introduce in 2017 to replace its 737 Next Generation series with a more fuel-efficient model.
Meanwhile, after many delays, the first Dreamliner (built in Washington) was delivered in September 2011. To date, Boeing has produced 28 Dreamliners, and reportedly it has orders for more than 800 of the jets, including 27 from Air India.
"Within just three years of breaking ground, we have flown and delivered our first airplane built at Boeing South Carolina," stated Boeing South Carolina vice president and general manager Jack Jones. "This is a tribute to the remarkable Boeing South Carolina team and the support we have received from our airline customers, our supplier partners and the Boeing enterprise, as well as the relationship we have with the State of South Carolina."
Boeing South Carolina fabricates, integrates and assembles the mid-body and aft-body fuselage sections for all 787 Dreamliners. Completed sections are joined in South Carolina Final Assembly, or transported to Everett, Wash., for final assembly.
Boeing started work on the South Carolina project in 2009. Production began there in the middle of 2011, and the first 787 produced there was completed in April of this year. In September, Boeing announced plans to expand the manufacturing complex, as it seeks to raise output to three 787s per month by the end of 2013. Expanding the buildings will allow it to achieve a more efficient production flow.
The aft fuselage production line will be more than doubled (63%) in size, with 276,000 square feet of new space. The painting operation at the plant will have 37,000 square feet of new space added, a 54% expansion.
Also, Boeing is adding a third “join tool” to the Charleston operation. The tool is a fixturing device that’s used in the process of assembling two critical carbon-fiber sub-structures for the aft fuselage of the 787. Join tools make it possible to link two carbon-fiber sections that have a critical taper and form the rear of the jet, holding them in alignment as fasteners are installed. Then, aft-fuselage structures become part of the final assembly of the 787 at North Charleston.
The second plane produced by Boeing South Carolina is also set for Air India, and will be delivered soon.
"We're delighted to be the first airline in the world to take delivery of a Dreamliner from this beautiful factory and look forward to taking many more," stated Air India board member K.M. Unni. "The 787 is an airplane with unmatched efficiency and technology, which will help in our airline's turnaround plan."