By Scott Hamilton
May 31, 2023, © Leeham News: Charleston (SC)—Boeing is gearing up to add a second production line for the 787 here at what was once the second line to the Everett (WA) plant.
When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, the Everett line was closed and production was consolidated here. Peak production between the two plants was 14/mo, with seven at each facility. Even before the pandemic, the rate was trimmed to 12/mo. With the pandemic, and airlines refusing to take any airplanes of any times as passenger traffic all but disappeared, production was slashed to 3/mo.
Then, when a production quality issue was discovered, deliveries were halt and production was slashed again, to a mere one-half 787 per month.
Deliveries restarted last year and the production rate returned to 3/mo. At a media briefing yesterday, In advance of the Paris Air Show, the VP and GM of the 787 program, Lane Ballard, announced the rate is going to 4/mo. By year end, Boeing will boost the rate to 5/mo. Boeing previously announced plans to boost the rate to 10/mo by 2025.
In a tour of the production line, the media saw early construction of a second assembly line in the 787 plant as Boeing prepares to add a second line for that previously announced 10 airplane per month, up from a peak of seven. But the Charleston plant has room for more than 10 airplanes per month.
Charleston from inception of the 787 program produces the aft Sections 47 and 48 for the 787. Section 48 is the last section of the fuselage. Section 47 is immediately before Section 48 and before the mid-section of the airplane. All these sections, for Everett and later Line 2 in Charleston, come from Charleston. Thus, the capacity for these sections is 14 per month.
But the final assembly line at Charleston peaked at 7/mo, the same As Everett. However, the 787-10—the longest of the three member family—is assembled only in Charleston because the joined aft sections are too big to airlift to Everett for final assembly.
With hundreds of new 787 orders received this year and more likely to come in the near- and mid-future, Charleston needs more final assembly capacity. Boeing officials declined to say what the current FAL building can assemble.
But in November 2020, LNA analyzed the Charleston production capacity and concluded that as the facility existed then (and today), it has the capacity to produce 12.5 787s per month based on then-existing labor and production metrics.
Officials did say that they are implementing lean production techniques. LNA believes that Charleston may be able to increase the throughput to 14 per month once more efficiencies are achieved.
Although Everett lost the first 787 FAL, the former space at the big Everett production plant is engaged in reworking quality issues and more importantly, fixing a production flaw discovered more than two years ago. Deliveries were halted to deal with microscopic gaps at body joins and elsewhere. An inventory of 787s that were built had to be inspected and fixes undertaken. At the peak, 110 787s were parked around Charleston and, later, Everett and Victorville (CA). This inventory has been reduced to about 90 aircraft. Everett is already doing some of the rework, as is Charleston.
Officials said that all this rework will shift to Everett to be completed by the end of 2024. This will free space in Charleston to construct the second final assembly line.
What will Boeing do with the Everett 787 space when the rework is done? No announcement has been made about its future.