But the company’s strategy of supporting two factories has been strained by the coronavirus crisis in international travel, in addition to a cyclical slowdown in demand for large jets. Boeing announced its move to South Carolina on Thursday.
Boeing said the single site will improve operational efficiency as the company adjusts to the market downturn and positions itself for the recovery.
But industry officials say it raises the prospect of another battle between the U.S. aircraft maker and the unions who have tried unsuccessfully to organize at the South Carolina plant.
Boeing also said production of the 787 will continue at the Everett site until a previously announced tariff reduction to six planes per month in 2021.
Boeing has estimated it will consolidate production at its North Charleston plant from mid-2021.
A review of its 787 production strategy, announced in July, along with sweeping rate cuts to its widebody programs, had already rattled unions and politicians in Washington state, who see Boeing wavering on its commitment. to his hometown of Seattle, which the company denies.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the move an “insult” to the more than 1,000 workers who build the 787 jets in the state and said it required a review of “the company’s favorable tax treatment. “.
The earlier decision to move some of the production to the non-union state of South Carolina was the culmination of a years-long strategy by the board of directors to reduce reliance on production in the state of Washington, where Boeing has had rocky union relations in the past.
John Holden, president of a local chapter of the International Association of Machinists, said the loss of 787 production capacity at Everett “puts the business, our members and our community at risk.”
Ray Goforth, executive director of the engineers’ union SPEEA, said “his immediate goal is to support members who will be made redundant. In the long term, we will partner with community stakeholders to attract new aerospace jobs [Washington] by marketing the pool of aerospace talent from which Boeing is moving away ”.
South Carolina offers cheaper labor and the larger 787-10 variant cannot be easily built elsewhere due to its size.
“We recognize that production decisions can impact our teammates, industry and our community partners,” said Stan Deal, general manager of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
But doubling production in South Carolina comes at a cost.
Boeing aims to revert to a rate of 10 to 11,787 per month at some point. Running such tariffs in South Carolina would require investments to expand the facility.
Currently, Boeing builds the 747s, 767s, 777s and some 787s there. After 2022, only the 767 / KC-46 and 777 / 777X would remain, with Boeing releasing no more than five jets per month – about three times less than there was. is one year old.
After Boeing rolled back plans for a new mid-range aircraft, there is no obvious backfill for the vacant 787 space, meaning the remaining low-rate programs would absorb a greater share of the overhead From the factory.