Boeing Co.’s final 787 made in Everett, Wash., has rolled off the production line, making North Charleston the only place where the Dreamliner is assembled.
The planemaker announced the consolidation in October, citing its need to cut costs after the COVID-19 pandemic nearly crippled the air travel industry.
At that time, the company said the transition would take place in mid-2021. But that was before inspections of production flaws on 787s were ramped up, and deliveries of the aircraft came to a total standstill.
Late last year, Boeing South Carolina said the consolidation plan had been moved up to March, but 787s would not be disappearing from Everett. Though no new Dreamliners would be assembled in the Seattle area, all previously completed 787s would continue to be inspected, reworked as needed and delivered to customers from that site.
A 787 for Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways was the last to come out of the Everett plant on Feb. 26, marking what Washington state officials had described as a disappointment and an insult when the decision to shut down the line was made official in the fall.
About 900 employees in the Puget Sound region work on the 787 program.
Boeing said in a statement that those workers “have played an instrumental role in the success of the program since the very beginning.”
Boeing chose Everett in 2003 for its original 787 assembly line. The program was kicked off with an order for 50 new airplanes for All Nippon Airways, the same airline the last Everett-made plane is bound for.
North Charleston’s involvement with the Dreamliner started in 2004 when Dallas-based Vought Aircraft Industries and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica formed a joint venture to build 787 fuselages next to Charleston International Airport.
Boeing ended up acquiring the North Charleston operation in 2009, and, later that year, announced it would open a second Dreamliner final assembly site off International Boulevard. Boeing broke ground that November, and the first fully South Carolina-made 787 was handed over to Air India in 2012.
The program was on track to deliver its 1,000th Dreamliner in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. A 787 jet for Singapore Airlines decorated with a “1,000th” decal was spotted on test flights last spring. That plane was also spotted sitting around last month as deliveries remain suspended.
A new 787 hasn’t been handed over since October.
As Boeing continues to inspect Dreamliners for flaws which involve variances in the flatness of the fuselage skin, it remains unclear when the dozens of 787s sitting in inventory will start to be unloaded.
A Feb. 25 Reuters report citing unspecified industry sources suggested the repair costs resulting from the production issues could cost the planemaker “millions — if not billions — of dollars,” and rework on affected jets could take up to a month per aircraft.
With assembly work now over, Everett’s 787 workers will be working on the ongoing inspections for Washington state-made Dreamliners.
North Charleston will do inspections and maintain a reduced monthly rate of five new 787s per month.
Boeing has said it expects to work through the vast majority of the 787s in inventory by the end of this year.
The planemaker has outlined no plan for bringing 787 work back to Everett. When CEO Dave Calhoun first disclosed last year that shuttering a line was on the table, he said one of the critical elements of the study was whether a single site could sustain higher monthly production once demand for the widebody jet recovers post-pandemic.
In the interim, the fallout from COVID-19 has driven down employment numbers at Boeing‘s South Carolina site. As of a Jan. 1, the company reported having 5,706 workers at several sites in North Charleston, a 17 percent decline from a year earlier.