Boeing plans to deliver the first 787 Dreamliner made in South Carolina next week, a jet equipped with an engine model that recently experienced failures and has drawn federal scrutiny.
The North Charleston-built jet, for Air India, is "ticketed" and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, which means it is ready for delivery, a Boeing official said on Wednesday. Its General Electric GEnx engines also have undergone special inspection, the official said, after the failures raised concerns.
Delivery from the second Boeing plant to make 787s marks an important milestone for a jet that has been beset by assembly problems that caused delays and huge cost overruns.
New carbon composites on the jet reduced its weight and cut fuel consumption by 20 percent compared with other planes its size - savings prized by airlines eager to tame soaring fuel bills.
But the delays have damaged Boeing's credibility with customers, making the first delivery from the second line all the more meaningful. The engine problems could have caused further delays.
The special engine inspections came after recent incidents in two Boeing 787s in which the fan midshaft on General Electric GEnx-1B engines fractured or showed cracks. On September 14, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended immediate safety inspections.
One of the incidents took place in July at Charleston Airport when debris from the engine of a 787 sparked a grass fire near the runway where it was taxiing.
Earlier on Wednesday, the FAA told reporters it would stop short of issuing an emergency directive on the engines, sticking instead to more routine safety notices.
"We have done the checks on all our GE engines," Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, said on Wednesday at an international trade conference near Charleston.
"We're clear and we're good," he told reporters. "GE has done a great job of figuring out quickly what we have to do to ensure the integrity of the engine. We know that and we've implemented it."
Jones said the engine issue had not affected its schedule of delivering planes. "It obviously didn't stop deliveries. That is absolutely critical."
"Trust me, with GE, FAA, regulatory, Boeing, we would never have let that engine go on an airplane if we even slightly suspected it. So we know it's safe." He said the plane maker "is in probably one of the most highly regulated industries in the US".
The plane was finished and the planned delivery next week was timed to suit the customer, Jones said.
Boeing South Carolina, which is currently building a 787 every 18 days, has 6,100 employees including about 200 on the flight line, Jones said.
The production rate will rise to three-and-a-half planes a month "later," Jones said. The plant also builds 787 aft fuselages for Boeing's Puget Sound final assembly plant.
"Not just here in South Carolina but in Puget Sound, we're all really focused on production rate because the production rates in several of our plants are going up to unprecedented levels," he said.
Gravity always wins!