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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boeing delivery site goes up

Customers to visit S.C. for planes

By Katy Stech - The (Charleston) Post and Courier
CHARLESTON -- Airlines that pay millions of dollars for their airplanes expect perfection.

That's the standard set for Boeing Co. workers in North Charleston who will oversee the last step in the aerospace giant's manufacturing process: the actual delivery of the passenger jets to be assembled at Charleston International Airport starting this year.

Construction workers on Tuesday bolted down the first upright steel column for a sleek delivery center building, where a local staff of about 300 employees will eventually put final touches on the new 787 Dreamliners.

At Global Aeronautica's Charleston factory, which is half-owned by Boeing, workers install wiring and insulation blankets in the center fuselage of a 787. A Boeing delivery center for final touches is under construction in North Charleston. Similar stories
Boeing's facility in S.C. more than just a factory

The manufacturing magic at Boeing Co.'s North Charleston campus will happen within the walls of three giant buildings: two existing structures that now piece together two aft sections of the 787 fuselage and another under construction where the entire jet will be assembled within the next year.

More than three years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, the 787 Dreamliner passenger jet has been a nonstop frustration for Boeing Co. - disappointing airlines, passengers and hundreds of unpaid parts suppliers.

The dilapidated factory that helped make Seattle a high-tech town is being demolished after 75 years, a casualty of time, technology and tails that grew too tall.

As the airplanes emerge from the maw of the cavernous manufacturing plant, Boeing will only have a few weeks to test and prepare each one before formally handing it over to the buyer, said David Palmer, the delivery center's director.

"The best shape an airplane is in is the day of delivery," said Palmer, who began delivering airplanes for Boeing more than 30 years ago.

Boeing's top local executive, Marco Cavazzoni, said the three-story center will draw foreign dignitaries, engineers and airline executives to the Lowcountry, giving South Carolina worldwide exposure.

More than 90 percent of the aerospace giant's customers are international, Cavazzoni noted. Some will celebrate the newest additions to their fleets with lavish fanfare.

Once it opens in November, the delivery center will mark the third place in the world - along with Boeing's manufacturing headquarters in Seattle and competitor Airbus's Toulouse plant in France - where wide-body jets are formally turned over to airlines.

Boeing has said it expects to turn over the first S.C.-made airplane in the first quarter of 2012. The first customer that will pick up its 787 in North Charleston has not been named.

Workers began snapping together the delivery center's 600-ton steel frame on Tuesday morning. The center is being built in the shadow of Boeing's $750 million manufacturing plant, which will open in July.

Between the two new buildings, Boeing will have room to park up to seven Dreamliner jets in air-conditioned huts where workers will conduct more tests.

Boeing is reserving part of its delivery center as offices for visiting customers. Palmer said it's common for aircraft buyers to send representatives to Boeing's other manufacturing plants in Washington state to watch over the final assembly and inspections.

"It'll be their home away from home while they're here," he said.

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