Boeing is bringing forward its plans to move the rest of the Dreamliner’s production to Charleston, South Carolina. The change will happen about 4 months quicker than planned. But there will be work for the Everett line, for a few more months.
Any production issues aside, this aircraft already had a somewhat troubled production setup. The aircraft’s assembly includes parts coming in from all over the world – literally. Japan, Italy and several sites in the US make major components for it. Final assembly of the 787-10 Dreamliner already took place in Charleston. But the 787-8 and 787-9 versions that preceded it, leave the final assembly line in Everett, Washington.
At first, the decision to make the 787-10 Dreamliner in Charleston was merely a practical one. The 747 Dreamlifter, already in use to transport major assemblies of the plane, would not fit the largest 787-10 parts. “Too small” isn’t many people’s first thought when the 747-400 LCF ‘Dreamlifter’ gets a mention, but here we are.
Before 2020, Boeing intended to continue producing the two Dreamliner versions in both Everett and Charleston. There were already plans to stop production of the 747 in Everett, and so capacity in Everett wasn’t an issue. There were also union-related considerations. And of course Boeing’s finances had already taken a hit in 2019, with the MAX crisis.
Earlier this month, Boeing announced that production of all versions of the Dreamliner would move to Charleston. The move would be completed by the end of June, 2021. At the same time, the production rate for the aircraft would slow down further. From six aircraft a month, the move would coincide with a drop to five.
Dreamliner Complications in Charleston
But by the time Boeing made this announcement, there were final assembly problems for Dreamliner aircraft coming out Charleston. Boeing halted deliveries completely, to investigate these issues. And this past week, they announced that their timeline will change again. And this time the cause has more to do with the need to check for those assembly issues.
Instead of July, the Dreamliner’s consolidation to Charleston will come in March. The reduction to five aircraft a month will also come at that time. But there is still work for the people and the space in Everett where final assembly takes place now. They will begin inspections on all 787s for the aforementioned issues.
Major assemblies for the Dreamliner come from Italy, Japan and of course Charleston, South Carolina. Then Boeing workers join them together. The process is different from that used in the past, because the fuselage of the Dreamliner is made of composite materials. Last August, Boeing found some problems in the aft fuselage section.
The work didn’t meet specifications and Boeing considered the defects serious enough to take remedial action. Then in November they decided to expand the search for similar issues to all fuselage joins. This makes these checks a much more time-consuming process. Once they compete the move to Charleston, Boeing will occupy the Everett line with these checks.
That work could last for the rest of 2021. But even now, Boeing is creating “Join Verification Positions” in both Everett and Charleston, to check Dreamliners in both sites. It remains for us to see how these changes will go with employees of the company.