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By BRUCE SMITH, The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) is seeking permits to expand its South Carolina plant, one of several being considered for an assembly line for its new 787 wide-body jetliners, a company spokesman said Wednesday.
Boeing spokesman Russ Young said the company is notifying state and local officials about applying for permits at the North Charleston plant, but noted there will be no decision on where to locate a second line until year’s end.
The Chicago-based company has been evaluating potential sites for a second assembly line for the 787, a next-generation aircraft built for fuel efficiency with lightweight carbon composite parts and its best-selling new model to date.
But production of the 787 has been hampered by problems stemming partly from Boeing’s reliance on global suppliers to build large sections of the aircraft. Those sections are later assembled at its commercial aircraft facilities in Everett, Wash.
The production glitches and an eight-week strike by union workers last fall have led to repeated delays of the 787’s first test flight and deliveries.
The troubles with the 787 program have cost Boeing credibility and billions of dollars in anticipated expenses and penalties. First deliveries are now about two years behind schedule.
Still, the 787 remains a priority for Boeing, which has struggled with sharply lower orders as the global economic slowdown has eroded demand for air travel and cargo services.
The North Charleston plant, which Boeing bought last month from Vought for $580 million plus about $420 million in debt forgiveness, makes fuselage sections for the 787. Analysts saw the acquisition of the plant, which was built in 2005, as an effort by Boeing to exert greater control over the production process and resolve supplier problems.
Because of the lead time required to get building permits, the company may also seek them for other locations, Young said. Boeing has declined to specify other sites being considered.
Young said people should not read too much into the decision to seek the South Carolina permits.
"Understand this is a procedural step. It certainly recognizes Charleston is a candidate as is Everett, Wash., and other locations," he said.
The company plans to have the new assembly line operating by 2012, Young said.
Young said the announcement makes it easier for Boeing officials to work on getting the permits without having to be secretive about the process as might be the case with other industrial developments.
"There’s a lot of work to be done and it’s best done with a clear understanding of what we are doing and why," he said.
"In this case there is an existing site, but how much work is required to make it potentially make it suitable for a facility like this and how much time that will take is part of the work to be done," he said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., called the development good news for the Charleston area.
"The potential for increasing Boeing’s presence in our state is a massive vote of confidence in the quality of the South Carolina workforce," he said.
Washington U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats, said the state has been home to Boeing since 1916.
"Our commitment to keeping Boeing in Washington has never wavered and never will," a joint statement said, adding "the second line belongs in Washington state."
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said the news "makes clear the need for increased urgency and determination in our fight to keep Boeing here in Washington State."
Shares of Boeing dipped 44 cents to $47.81 in afternoon trading.