The first Boeing airliner ever built outside the Seattle area (if you don't count the 717, a renamed MD-95 built in Long Beach) rolled off the company's satellite 787 assembly line in Charleston, S.C., on Friday. The aircraft is destined for Air India and marks the beginning of high-rate production at the plant aimed at helping Boeing catch up with deliveries for the popular Dreamliner, which was three years late getting to customers. Establishment of the plant was controversial among Boeing's highly unionized Washington State operations, with some predicting that it would be impossible to properly train local workers to put the sophisticated airplanes together. However, Jack Jones, Boeing's Charleston plant manager, said there was never any question in the company's mind that it could be done and done well. "I can certainly understand why they might question it," Jones told KIRO TV. "But it was done the right way and the results speak for themselves."
The Charleston plant went from bare earth to first rollout in about 30 months, done mostly with local labor. Jones told KIRO Boeing invested heavily in training for the neophyte aerospace workforce. The initial training for the 787 assembly was three times longer than courses run for Washington State workers and relied heavily on computer simulations to show how the millions of pieces fit together. Boeing has apparently been encouraged enough by the experience to buy another 200 acres near the Charleston plant for future expansion. It will be a while before Charleston or any other location could ever seriously challenge Boeing's vast Puget Sound manufacturing base in any serious way, though. Boeing has already committed to building the 737 MAX and most Dreamliners in Everett and the current backlog for the Washington facilities will keep them working flat-out for 15 years.