Through 2020, expect Boeing Everett and North Charleston 787 Dreamliner lines to move toward parity.
After that, North Charleston could pull ahead, partly because the mix of Dreamliner models weighs in its favor.
As Boeing completes the Dreamliner lineup, the mid-sized 787-9, and the even-larger 787-10 (which will only be made in South Carolina) will become more important.
Currently Boeing is building 10 Dreamliners monthly — seven in Everett, and three in North Charleston.
Boeing expects to raise 787 monthly output to 12 in 2016, and then 14 by 2020, as South Carolina expands its production.
After that, North Charleston could pull ahead.
By 2020, the smallest 787-8 — which is built in both places — will become “a bit of a niche machine,” Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. The mid-sized 787-9 is offering similar range and better economics, he said, and the largest 787-10 will offer better per-seat economics than either.
“After 2020 we will see no dash 8s, and for a while there will be surge of dash 10s, and it could settle down to 60 percent in favor of dash 10s,” Aboulafia said.
Boeing’s decision late last week to close the temporary 787 “surge” line in Everett by the end of 2015, sooner than originally planned, means that the capabilities of the two sites will now be more directly comparable.
With the surge line gone, each site will operate only one Dreamliner production line in the medium-term, although the 1.2 million-square-foot North Charleston building is configured to eventually house two production lines.
A Charleston strength is that it assembles 787 fuselage sections there, and fabricates the tail section there from raw carbon fiber. Everett depends on those sections being delivered.
However, Boeing must transport wings from Japan to both sites.
In a statement from North Charleston plant manager Beverly Wyse, posted on the All Things 787 website, she expressed confidence that the South Carolina plant is ready for the additional speed.
“With the phasing out of the TSL (temporary surge line), BSC (Boeing South Carolina) final assembly will produce five additional airplanes, meaning that we will transition to our final assembly production rate of five per month earlier than planned,” she wrote. “We continue to work on improvement with some of our suppliers, and we’re confident in your ability to execute this plan.”
The Everett plant has been running at seven monthly on the combination of the surge and permanent lines, but now will be required to maintain that number on just one line.
The next five years will be important for North Charleston, to see if workers there can successfully raise the rate to seven monthly.
“I don’t think Charleston is anywhere near ready to go to seven, that’s why Beverly Wyse is there to fix things,” said aviation analyst Scott Hamilton, president of Leeham LLC.
Wyse is well known for orchestrating the multiple changes that have allowed the Boeing 737 plant in Renton to increase the rate to the current 42 monthly, with an eventual 52 monthly planned.
Looking even further out, Hamilton suggested that whenever demand for the 787 starts to slide, toward the end of the model’s life cycle, that Charleston will become primary.
“When the inevitable time comes that they reduce production rates they will reduce it in Everett,” he said. “Not Charleston.”