Boeing buys rest of S.C. plant

SEATTLE — Boeing said Tuesday that it has taken full control of the 787 Dreamliner midfuselage plant in North Charleston, S.C., by buying the 50 percent stake of its Italian supplier Alenia.

The company did not disclose what it paid to acquire the rest of the plant, known as Global Aeronautica.

Boeing now owns the entire Charleston 787 assembly complex, which already has two major aircraft-assembly buildings: the GA building and one where the 787 rear fuselage is built.

It plans to add a third major building for a new final-assembly line. By 2016, Boeing Charleston will employ about 6,400 people.

"Ultimately, we believe integration of the site will increase productivity for the 787 program and allow us to maintain our long-term competitiveness," Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Boeing's gradual takeover of the Charleston site was forced upon it after the company lost control of its 787 supply chain, a major cause of the almost 2 1/2 years of delay in the jet program.

With no jets going to customers, the delays led to a cash crunch for the supplier partners Alenia and Vought, who weren't getting enough revenue to continue work.

Boeing sent managers and experienced workers for extended periods to troubleshoot production in Charleston.

That strategic commitment of resources, and the partners' unwillingness to invest more money without a quicker return, led Boeing to acquire the various parts of the complex in piecemeal fashion.

In 2008, Boeing acquired the first half-share of GA from Alenia's original partner, Vought of Texas.

In July, Boeing bought from Vought the 787 rear-fuselage assembly plant adjacent to the GA building, at a cost of about $1 billion.

And in October, Boeing announced it will build, on land adjacent to the existing buildings, its second 787 final-assembly line and delivery center, as well as other buildings, including a fin-and-rudder shop.

Second 787 makes first flight — Boeing's 787 Dreamliner No. 2 landed safely Tuesday at Boeing Field in Seattle after a flight that lasted almost two hours, but the test flight did not go entirely smoothly.

A ham radio operator who monitored the chatter between the plane and Boeing's flight operations center and the air traffic control tower said the T-33 chase plane reported over the Olympic Peninsula that the tilt of the nose landing gear of the airplane didn't look right.

Part of the gear assembly "was tilted to the aft by 15 degrees," the radio operator heard the chase pilot report. The chase plane observer was also concerned about the alignment of the nose gear door with the tire.

Boeing confirmed this, and said also that the landing gear indicator lights provided conflicting data.

Test pilot Randy Neville abandoned the first planned approach into Boeing Field, then turned and flew around so the chase plane could have another look, according to the radio exchange.

Boeing in a statement said that during flight testing, "dialogue between the pilots, chase plane pilots, and engineers can sometimes be heard over the Air Traffic Control System and misinterpreted."

"It's important to remember that flight test programs are conducted to identify and solve issues as they arise," the statement said.

Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said the ground-based flight test engineers analyzed the issue with the landing gear and resolved it while the plane was in the air.

"We fixed it and it landed safely," Leach said. "At no time during this flight was the aircraft or the pilots in danger."

Only two test pilots were aboard the jet, with Neville at the controls and Mike Carriker, who commanded last week's first flight, this time riding in the right seat as co-pilot.

Though the plane is painted in the colors of the first 787 customer, All Nippon Airways of Japan, this jet will not be delivered to ANA. The first three of the six flight test airplanes are considered too heavy and have been modified and remodified too much to be sold to an airline. They will be used only for test flights.