The jet maker is modifying how it builds the rear of its 787-8 jetliner to make it more like bigger 787-9 and 787-10 models, said Darrel Larson, director of aft body operations at Boeing's South Carolina campus, earlier this month.
The goal is to make 787-8 aft sections more compatible with newer Dreamliner jets while cutting manufacturing costs.
"Eights and Nines in this building will look the same and they'll build the same," Larson said. "We're very excited about this common aft."
Bainbridge Island aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton thinks the move will intensify speculation that Boeing intends to consolidate all Dreamliner production in South Carolina to make room in Everett to build its New Mid-Market Airplane, known as the NMA or 797.
"Boeing has chosen to invest more in Puget Sound than any other region in the world over the past decade," said spokesman Paul Bergman, who declined to comment on Hamliton's remarks.
All aft fuselages for Dreamliners are made at Boeing's North Charleston site. They are then either moved to the North Charleston assembly plant or flown to Boeing's Everett on a Dreamlifter, a specially modified 747 jet Boeing uses to fly components between its suppliers and assembly sites. Boeing moved the Dreamlifter Operations Center from Everett to Charleston.
The 787-8, the first Dreamliner model, has only about 30 percent of common parts and components with the newer 787-9 and 787-10 models, Larson said. The 787-9 and 787-10 models are about 90 percent the same plane as each other, except the 787-10's body is stretched an extra 18 feet so it can carry more passengers.
A common aft body for all 787 models will reduce costs throughout the 787 program, a goal of Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Kevin McAllister.
Boeing's plans to modify the 787-8 aft fuselage manufacturing process were first reported by The Charleston Post and Courier.
Boeing has orders for 91 undelivered 787-8s on its books, including 22 recently ordered by American Airlines, compared to 409 orders for the bigger 787-9 and 170 for the 787-10.
(Andrew McIntosh - Puget Sound Business Journal)