All Eyes Are On Boeing After Report That 787 Will Move From Everett

787 production North Charleston, South Carolina
Credit: Sean Broderick / AWST

The aviation industry and thousands of workers in Washington State and South Carolina are primed to hear from Boeing about the future of 787 production following a report that the company has decided to consolidate the work at its North Charleston, South Carolina facility.

The Wall Street Journal reported late on Sept. 29 that Boeing is set to announce that 787 production will stop in Everett, north of Seattle, leaving South Carolina as the widebody jetliner’s only final assembly facility. Boeing announced in July that it would study the issue as part of larger streamlining efforts in light of lower demand for new aircraft linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Boeing said Sept. 30 that it has no additional comment beyond an August statement acknowledging the study is taking place and is examining multiple scenarios, including a single site.

“We are engaging with our stakeholders, including the unions, as we conduct this study,” the statement said. “We will take into account a number of factors and keep an eye on future requirements as we think through the long-term health of our production system.”

SPEEA, the union that represents thousands of Boeing workers, said on Twitter Sept. 30 that it has not heard from the company about a final decision.

“We’re waiting for clarification from Boeing as to whether this [story] is true, and if so, how many people will be impacted and on what schedule,” the union said.

While production is split between Everett and North Charleston, Boeing assembles the largest family variant—the 787-10—exclusively in South Carolina because of the length of the mid-body fuselage section, which is also fabricated there and cannot be economically transported across the country. The 787-10 accounts for about 30% of the 787 backlog, or 146 of the 516 aircraft on order, Aviation Week Intelligence Network Fleet Data shows.

This supply chain issue is one of several factors that seem to favor South Carolina in a single-site scenario.

Boeing maintained 787 production at 14 per month before demand dictated a slowdown. The medium-term ramifications of the pandemic have prompted the manufacturer to trim planned production to a total of six per month starting in 2022—less than what each 787 facility was producing at their peaks.

It is not clear what would happen to the Everett line if all 787 production moved to South Carolina. It could be shuttered, or simply paused in anticipation of a ramp-up in demand that would once again make two sites feasible. It is not clear how high monthly production can go at the South Carolina site in its current configuration.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who represents the district that houses much of Boeing’s Seattle-area operation including the Everett plant, responded to the Wall Street Journal report by calling Boeing’s apparent decision “shortsighted and misplaced.”

“As the economy comes back and air travel returns, I will fight to bring 787 production back to Everett,” Larsen added.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.