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Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

June 16, 2013 at 6:45 AM

Paris Air Show: Boeing undecided on whether Everett will build the 787-10

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Conner at a media roundtable  on the eve of the Paris Air Show

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Conner at a media roundtable on the eve of the Paris Air Show

The 787-10, the next and largest model of Boeing’s Dreamliner jet family that is likely to launched at the Paris Air Show this week, may be assembled exclusively in South Carolina.

Boeing faces a key decision on how to manufacture the 787-10, one that will determine whether a big section of the jet can be transported to Everett.

And though Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner is expected to formally launch the plane as early as Monday, he said Sunday the  company is still weighing what to do on that decision, leaving doubt as to whether Everett will get to build the jet.

Speaking to reporters in Paris on the eve of the Air Show, Conner was asked if Boeing will be able to fly the large mid-fuselage section of the 787-10, which is built in South Carolina, to Everett.

“We’re still looking at that,” Conner responded. “We haven’t made the determination on that yet.”

If the mid-section is too big to fit inside the Dreamlifter, the purpose-built modified 747 used to fly it to Everett, then the 787-10 will have to assembled exclusively in South Carolina.

It’s an issue that has been worrying political officials in Washington state, including Alex Pietsch, head of Gov. Jay Inslee’s aerospace office.

“We’ve been very curious as to whether assembly of (the 787-10) might take place exclusively in Charleston,” said Pietsch, just ahead of a reception in Paris hosted by Washington state. “We’re hopeful it can be built in Everett along with the 787-8 and 787-9. But we recognize, we may not get all of it.”

Pitesch said that the expectation is that over time Boeing’s east and west coast 787 assembly sites will reach parity in production. Even if all the 787-10s were built in North Charleston, Everett would still expect to have plenty of work building -8s and -9s.

Everett’s chances on the 787-10 may be spoiled by logistics.

The massive mid-section on the initial 787-8 model of the Dreamliner family is already 84 feet long.

And though the second member of the Dreamliner family, the 787-9, has a 20-foot fuselage stretch overall, its mid-body section still fits inside the Dreamlifter. The first 787-9 mid-section arrived in Everett from South Carolina just last month.

The 787-10 fuselage will be stretched another 18 feet. A circular barrel  slice — Conner referred to it as a “donut” shape — has to be added to one of the existing sections. Will it be added in the middle, potentially making that section too large to fly to Everett?

“We’re weighing a number of different options,” Conner said. “You could do the donut in the mid. You could do the donut in the aft.”

The new 787 final assembly line building in Charleston has more room than the one in Everett. It may have been built with the 787-10 expressly in mind.

With Boeing apparently close to launching the jet, the uncertainty is surprising. Conner’s non-committal answer will fuel concern about the issue among Washington state officials.

They’ll find no comfort in another non-committal answer to a separate question as to where the giant carbon-composite wing of the forthcoming 777X will be fabricated.

Washington employees and political leaders are hopeful that wing to be built in the Puget Sound region, close to the Everett factory where 777X will almost certainly be assembled.

Discussing the extensive changes to the supply chain on the 787, Conner conceded that having Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan build the Dreamliner wing was the biggest outsourcing step taken on that jet program.

Will that step be repeated or avoided for 777X, which will have the next new Boeing wing since the 787?

“We haven’t made a decision on what we’re going to do,” said Conner. “We’re still doing a lot of analysis. We’re still looking at every possibility.”

The head of Boeing’s supply chain, Stan Deal, is due to attend the Washington State reception dinner here in Paris later this afternoonWednesday. The 777X wing was going to be a big talking point there. Now the 787-10 assembly site will also be a hot topic.

But so far in Paris, there are no firm answers for Everett, only uncertainty.

“We’re watching closely and waiting,” said Washington’s Pietsch.


Comments | Topics: 777X, 787-10, Conner


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