The two companies' top Carolina executives executed the handoff at a ceremony Tuesday in North Charleston. Terri Pope is vice president of airport customer service at Charlotte; American has 14,000 employees in the Carolinas. Beverly Wyse is vice president and general manager at Boeing South Carolina, which employs 7,500 people.
The Carolinas are home to two major transportation resources. One is the 350-year-old Port of Charleston, once a slave port, now the eighth-busiest U.S. container port and one that regularly entices major manufacturers to South Carolina. Boeing came in 2008. American's Charlotte hub is the second-busiest hub for the world's largest airline and has enabled the region's growth.
In the early 1980s, US Airways predecessor Piedmont built its first hub in Charlotte. American merged with US Airways in 2013. It operates 654 daily Charlotte departures.
American "is proud of Boeing for having this facility in the Carolinas [and] proud to support this effort," Pope said as she took delivery of the plane. "When the aerospace industry continues to grow in the Carolinas, that is good for all of us.
"We love our 787s," she said. "They enable us to fly routes that wouldn't have been possible." American uses the 787 on long-haul routes to Asia and deep into South America; last week it inaugurated service between Los Angeles and Tokyo's Haneda Airport. American took possession Tuesday of the 100th Dreamliner built in North Charleston.
Pope said she knows of no plans to use a 787 in Charlotte, which is primarily a domestic hub. However, she said, Charlotte passengers can connect to 787 flights in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Charlotte has been primarily an Airbus (EADSY) hub, since US Airways had the world's largest Airbus fleet, but Pope noted, "We see more and more Boeings out of Charlotte" as a result of the merger.
After touring the aircraft, Pope said, "It's gorgeous," citing the improved lighting, air quality and larger bins. "It's nice when you can design around customer needs and get efficiency also," she said.
The tour also led Pope to reflect on her own career. She started at Air Kentucky, a commuter partner of US Airways predecessor Allegheny Airlines. She would sell tickets in Owensboro, board the 15-passenger Beech 99, fly to Bowling Green, then to Frankfurt, then to Cincinnati, selling tickets in each city.
On Tuesday, Pope took possession of a Boeing 787 seating 226 passengers, with a list price around $225 million and an estimated actual cost around $120 million. "Turboprop to Dreamliner -- are you kidding?" Pope said.
The airplane is American's 14th Dreamliner; all are 787-8s. American has ordered 42 aircraft and will get its first 787-9 in the fall. In the 8 series, American seats 28 in business with lie-flat seating. It puts 57 in the main cabin extra-room section with 36-inch pitch. In the main cabin, the 141 seats have just 31-inch pitch, a tight squeeze on 15-hour flights to Asia.
Still, the aircraft continues to win raves, even as Boeing has now delivered about 370 of them.
Mike Forte, the Dallas-based captain who flew the new 787 to Dallas, said, "It's fuel-efficient and it handles turbulence better than any airplane I've flown [and] has the best ergonomics in the cockpit," where flight information is displayed on a screen so captains don't have to constantly look down at readings on the instrument panel.
Stephen Whelan, a Tulsa-based American test pilot, flew the aircraft off the Charleston coast last week, the eighth time he has test flown a 787. "The airplane is extremely quiet," he said. "It's so noticeable. It is whisper-quiet."