Boeing is expected to announce soon its plan to consolidate production of 787 Dreamliner aircraft in North Charleston, S.C., a decision reported as a possibility in late September. The Wall Street Journal confirmed the decision this week, but as yet there is no indication of the schedule for the shift. Once the shift is in effect, Boeing's Everett, Wash., plant that completed a total of 172 aircraft (747s, 767s, 777s, and 787s) in 2019 would be left to produce only the 767 (mainly a cargo aircraft), the 777, and its successor the 777X. The 747 program will be phased out by 2023.
The move is a cost-saving effort for Boeing, as the South Carolina operation has lower labor costs, but it also represents proof that aircraft production rates will be cut significantly as commercial demand declines following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The possibility of consolidating 787 production emerged in late July when Boeing reported its Q2 2020 results, and announced it will cut Dreamliner production from 10 jets to six per month in 2021.
"With this lower rate profile, we will also need to evaluate the most efficient way to produce the 787," president and CEO Dave Calhoun noted at that time, "including studying the feasibility of consolidating production in one location. We will share more with you following our study."
The 787 Dreamliner is a twin-engine, long-range wide-body jet with carrying capacity for 210 to 330 passengers. The 787 aircraft series has been in service since 2011, now with three variants — though the largest of these, the 787-10 is assembled exclusively at North Charleston.
The strategy to support two plants for the 787 series was to create capacity and production cost flexibility, in particular for labor costs. Boeing has had various conflicts with unionized employees in Washington State, and South Carolina is a "right to work" state. A series of efforts by the International Assn. of Machinists over the past nine years have failed to organize workers Boeing workers in South Carolina.
Boeing will continue to assemble the 737 and 777 series in Washington. Boeing currently has almost 70,000 employees in that state, about 30,000 of whom are employed at the Everett plant.