|Officials with the Boeing Co. delivered the first 787 built outside Puget Sound to Air India at the company’s North Charleston Delivery Center on Friday. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
Published Oct. 5, 2012
Eric Swanson has been with the first Lowcountry-built Dreamliner from its partial assembly in the mid-body plant to the flight line.
“It’s exciting to see it come from power-off all the way through the final assembly,” Swanson said, standing in the business class section of the first locally built 787 today during its delivery to Air India. “It was fantastic.”
With a few signatures, officials with the Boeing Co. delivered the first 787 built outside Puget Sound to Air India at the company’s North Charleston Delivery Center. Outside, they cut a ribbon with oversized scissors and gave tours of the airplane, which seats about 250 passengers.
“To the Boeing South Carolina team, what a phenomenal, phenomenal execution on what had to be done,” said Jack Jones, general manager and vice president of Boeing South Carolina. “History is when you do it for the first time.”
|Air India plans to begin 787 service to London, Frankfurt and Paris by midmonth. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
|Air India's K.M. Unni shakes the hand of a Boeing S.C. worker today in North Charleston. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
K.M. Unni, COO of Air India and a board member, said the two 787s already in service are getting positive reviews and the plane will be a part of the airline’s business plan.
Its range will make new routes viable, and Air India plans to begin 787 service to London, Frankfurt and Paris by midmonth. The Dreamliner could also open routes from India to Australia.
Unni said the few GEnx engine issues — a GEnx engine on a different Lowcountry-built 787 failed during ground testing months ago — won’t interfere with deliveries. Boeing and the airline are testing the engines, many of which are outfitted on the 787s built in North Charleston. Air India expects to receive eight 787s by March 31, which includes the first three that have been delivered.
Officials also addressed the delays in Air India’s deliveries, which were expected earlier this year. The delays came in part because of the approval process Air India went through as a government-owned airline, said Dinesh Keskar, senior vice president of Asia Pacific and India Sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. The airline had to take the compensation package, which hasn’t been disclosed, to the upper levels of the Indian government for approval.
“We were patient,” Keskar said, adding the bottom line is Air India is taking all of its 787 orders and if a business is impatient in that country, it will come back with nothing.
Years ago, Unni said he received the contract for Air India’s Dreamliners, and he immediately opened it to find he would receive his new airplanes from somewhere other than Puget Sound. He was concerned at first, but those concerns eased through discussions with Boeing.
“We’re beginning the foundation of a long partnership with the Charleston facility,” Unni said, adding the next five or six 787s will be built by North Charleston workers.
Jones said the delivery brings Boeing South Carolina full circle. Workers finished building the first 787, pilots flew it and now Air India accepted it. The company is focused on increasing its rate, but Jones didn’t say how many Dreamliners North Charleston could finish by the end of the year, though he did say the facility is on pace to support the total projection of 75 deliveries this year companywide, which are a mix of 747s and 787s.
Jones reminded everyone that the site was undeveloped in 2009, when Boeing made its decision to open its final assembly and delivery facilities in North Charleston. Since then, the company hired about 6,100 employees and has finished three other Dreamliners in addition to the 787 delivered today. One of those employees, Swanson, has seen the first Lowcountry-built Dreamliner move through most of the assembly process.
He moved to Charleston about two years ago, when his family decided to move east from Atlanta, where he was an avionics instructor.
“The family decided that we were going to move here, and it was about the same time that they really started ramping up the hiring here,” Swanson said. “It was quite a stroke of luck that my skills (matched) what they needed here.”
The first Lowcountry-built 787 is scheduled to fly to India in the next few days, and depending on the day, Swanson plans to go to Charleston International Airport and watch it depart.
“It’s bittersweet,” Swanson said of the delivery and the 787’s departure. “We know it has to go; we’re sad to see it go, but it’s something you’ve got to do.”