Airlines

Step inside Boeing’s South Carolina Dreamliner manufacturing unit

For many of its historical past, Boeing has been synonymous with the Seattle space. Though the worldwide aerospace firm has amenities throughout the U.S. and overseas, it was based in Seattle, and for many of its historical past, it constructed its business plane at two Seattle-area factories.

In 2011, Boeing opened a 3rd business manufacturing unit, this one in Charleston, South Carolina.

The brand new location got here to be after Boeing bought the South Carolina-based operations of two suppliers in 2008 and 2009: Vought Plane Industries and World Aeronautica, which constructed elements for Boeing.

Boeing absorbed each operations and mixed them, earlier than opening a last 787 meeting and supply line on the positioning two years later.

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The Charleston website operates alongside Boeing’s Everett manufacturing unit in Washington state, which produces wide-body business jets.

Boeing stated that it wanted the second meeting line so as to “develop our manufacturing functionality to satisfy the market demand for the airplane” and that it selected the Charleston website as a result of part work already being carried out on the property.

Nevertheless, the announcement got here throughout a interval of turbulent relations with its Washington-based union, resulting in allegations that the plane-maker was trying to illegally circumvent the union. Boeing has since allegedly fought any effort by Charleston staff to unionize.

Boeing stated in 2020 that it could consolidate 787 manufacturing in Charleston as a substitute of splitting it between South Carolina and Washington, a transfer which was accomplished the next 12 months.

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TPG had an opportunity to tour the manufacturing unit final December forward of an occasion marking United Airways’ new order for as much as 200 airplanes.

Saying that Boeing makes the Dreamliners at its manufacturing unit is a bit deceptive as a result of Boeing — identical to Airbus, Embraer and different airframe makers — does not really manufacture a lot of the airplane itself.

Extra: The 787 Dreamliner: What are the variations between an -8, -9 and -10?

As a substitute, the corporate outsources elements to specialised producers, whereas constructing just a few components itself. Then, Boeing gathers every of the elements and assembles them as the ultimate product.

So actually, the Charleston facility is extra of an meeting plant.

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Due to this, as you drive across the facility, which is situated on the grounds of the airport, you will not solely see 787s in varied states of completion. You will additionally spot a uncommon plane sort: Boeing’s customized “Dreamlifter.”

The Dreamlifter is a transformed 747-400 with roughly triple the cargo quantity due to its bulbous hull. Boeing designed the kind within the mid-2000s particularly to move massive elements for the 787 — corresponding to wings — from suppliers to its manufacturing plant. Different outsized cargo plane on the time have been too small.

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The 4 Dreamlifters, that are operated for Boeing by cargo service Atlas Air, primarily decide up Dreamliner wings, made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, in addition to a number of fuselage sections, frames, horizontal stabilizers and different components from Leonardo in Italy, and drop them off in Charleston.

The primary fuselage, constructed by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, is transported by rail, whereas 1000’s of different elements are shipped utilizing quite a lot of modes of transportation.

Throughout TPG’s go to, two of the Dreamlifters have been on-site.

Boeing nonetheless builds some elements itself, although — specifically the aft part, or again, of the airplane.

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

Sadly, Boeing requested us to agree to not {photograph} some components of the power, because it makes use of proprietary know-how and strategies within the manufacturing course of. Nonetheless, we have been in a position to get a glance and take photographs in some areas.

As soon as the aft part is accomplished, staff deliver it over to a last meeting constructing.

There, the aft part is joined to the fuselage, and the wings and different buildings are connected to the principle physique. Because the airplane strikes down the meeting line, the airplane is painted for the ultimate buyer and the plane interiors are put in, together with flight management methods.

Ending touches are placed on, and every particular person airplane is flown for a grueling take a look at program earlier than being delivered. Throughout TPG’s tour, a 787-9 certain for Turkish Airways landed after getting back from almost three hours of testing over the Atlantic Ocean.

The Charleston facility has 787s parked throughout ready to be delivered. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered 787 deliveries to pause in mid-2021 after quite a few issues arose surrounding Boeing’s high quality management course of in Charleston. Deliveries resumed late final summer season.

Due to the year-plus pause in deliveries, which got here simply as air journey demand was starting to return following pandemic-era lows, Boeing is working to get a backlog of accomplished airplanes to airline clients.

DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

Between the pandemic and the supply pause, the corporate additionally slowed the manufacturing line. Boeing is focusing on a fee of 5 accomplished Dreamliners every month, in line with Lisa Fahl, senior director of high quality.

The road peaked at 14 new airplanes monthly between Charleston and Everett, Fahl stated, suggesting that output might scale up sooner or later.

It isn’t clear when manufacturing will pace up, however as United’s order demonstrates, there’s heavy demand for brand spanking new Dreamliners — and there’ll seemingly proceed to be for years to return.

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