Boeing Rolls Out First South Carolina Dreamliner

CHARLESTON, S.C. ( TheStreet) -- Boeing ( BA) on Friday rolled out the first 787 Dreamliner to be built in South Carolina, just 29 months after breaking ground on its $750 million complex here.

"It's not just a rollout of another new model," Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing Charleston, told reporters. "It is history. It is history for this state (and) it is history for the Boeing Co., to build a new aircraft outside of Puget Sound."

The 787 is viewed as the aircraft that will change commercial aviation, not only because it is more fuel efficient than predecessors but also because with 210 to 250 seats it is a relatively small plane that still can fly 7,800 miles, meaning it will open new global markets and, in effect, make the world smaller.

Some of the focus, so far, has been on delays in the delivery schedule with the first plane arriving about three-and-a-half years late. But as of today, Boeing has rolled out 787s from both Charleston and Everett, Wash., meaning the company can turn its attention to ramping up production and delivering aircraft and boosting the revenue that comes with deliveries. The immediate goal is to produce 10 per month by the end of 2013.

So far, Boeing has delivered 11 aircraft. The first Charleston 787 will be delivered to Air India in about a month. Air India will take the first four aircraft from Charleston, all scheduled to be delivered this year. Jones said it makes sense for customers to receive all of their aircraft from one production facility.

By early next year, Boeing expects to produce 3.5 Dreamliners a month in Charleston and 10 altogether.

Clearly, Boeing has its eyes on increasing production in Charleston. Its executives did not say that, exactly. But as he escorted reporters through the final assembly plant, which seemed to have ample space for more aircraft, Marco Cavazzoni, vice president and general manager for final assembly and delivery, declared: "We have the capability to go up higher than the rates we currently have."

Similarly, Willy Geary, superintendent of the mid-body plant, which assembles mid-bodies for both Everett and Charleston, said the first goal is to produce 10 a month.

"Ten is what we're on contract for now," he said. "We are studying things above 10."

Boeing recently negotiated a contract with the International Association of Machinists for its Puget Sound employees: The negotiations seemed to resolve many of the differences that have split the company and its principal union and, indeed, Boeing agreed to boost production in the Puget Sound area.

Now the company appears to have the best of both worlds, labor peace as well as the opportunity to grow its non-union production in Charleston, where it currently employs about 6,000 workers.

"We operate our business like you would operate a small business," Cavazzoni said. "If you're qualified to do something, you can do that.

"We like to provide an environment where our people feel like they own the business, without the need of third-party intermediaries," he said.

The mood here is almost frontierish, as Boeing came and cleared land and rapidly built one of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world, one of a handful of plants that makes widebody aircraft. Now, the company is rushing to boost its production capacity to meet a target, after which, it is clear, a new target will be set.

"Two years ago, this was forest," said Mattthew Borland, director of the aft body plant. "It was all woods out there."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charleston, S.C.

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