Boeing 787 production in S.C. continues despite grounding

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Workers continued Thursday to build new 787s at Boeing’s South Carolina assembly plant even though federal authorities have grounded planes now in service while onboard batteries are checked.


The Federal Aviation Administration grounded the jetliners the previous day after battery fires on two of the new planes flown by Japanese carriers.

Production continued on the planes at the company’s sprawling North Charleston assembly plant that employs about 6,000 workers, Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said. Boeing also builds the plane at its plant in Everett, Wash.

She said she could not comment further on the battery situation but referred to a statement the company had released earlier.

In that statement, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney vouched for the safety of the new fuel-efficient plane the company calls the Dreamliner. It is the first commercial aircraft to have a hull made of lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum.

“We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787’s safety and to return the airplanes to service,” he said.

Four of the 50 planes in service were built in South Carolina and sold to Air India. The airline took delivery of the first South Carolina-built plane in October. There have been no reports of problems with the batteries on those planes but the Indian government ordered Air India to ground its entire fleet of six Boeing 787s.

The FAA is investigating the lithium batteries on the planes that can leak corrosive fluid and start fires.

The North Charleston assembly plant has a goal of producing three 787s a month by the end of this year.

The first aircraft built at Boeing’s $750 million plant came off the line last April. When it opened in the summer of 2011, the plant represented the largest single industrial investment in South Carolina history.


Boeing said 787s will keep rolling off the assembly line while it works to get the planes grounded by regulators back flying again.

It’s not clear how long the investigation – or the fix – will take, but it won’t be cheap for Boeing.

Airlines that had sought the prestige of flying the world’s most sophisticated plane are instead stuck with one they can’t use.

Boeing currently builds five 787s per month. It hasn’t delivered any since Jan. 3, before the plane started experiencing a spate of problems that also included fuel and oil leaks, a cracked cockpit window and a computer glitch that erroneously indicated a brake problem.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said no deliveries had been scheduled during that time. She declined to discuss planned deliveries.

Regardless of delivery schedules, it’s cheaper for Boeing to build the planes and then go back and fix them than it is to shut down production.

All Nippon Airways said its 18th 787 is due at the end of this month, but it won’t take delivery until 787 flights resume.

The grounding will force airlines to swap in a different plane – often, a Boeing 767 or 777. Even though all of those planes are built to carry a large number of passengers on long-haul flights, their seating layouts are different, and last-minute plane switches are a headache for airlines and passengers. As long as they don’t have to cancel a flight, though, airlines will still collect their money from the ticket.

– Associated Press



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