CHARLESTON, SC — As someone who has been employed at the Charleston International Airport since 1987, Susan M. Stevens, A.A.E. readily recognizes that her airport is in the midst of living a dream from an airport director’s point of view.
Actually it’s two dreams — Charleston will soon be the home of the second Boeing assembly plant for the new 787 Dreamliner; and, in March Southwest Airlines connected the city to its U.S. network with seven daily flights to four of its focus cities. The latter move is prompting the Charleston County Airport Authority to accelerate terminal renovation plans as the airport braces for an anticipated influx of passengers.
When asked her greatest fear amid all this activity, Stevens responds, “It’s about keeping up with the growth in Charleston. Our economy is very strong and vibrant in many areas. With the impact of Boeing, Southwest, and Carnival Cruise Lines, we’ve got a lot going on. The port is growing. I want to ensure the airport can accommodate that growth.”
A community goes global
Boeing is rapidly constructing its 240-acre site at Charleston International and expects to be delivering Dreamliners by 2012 from here. Initial investment is estimated in the $85 million range, while various state and local incentive packages will offset much of that investment, say sources. Rent charged to Boeing for the acreage is one dollar per year.
The economic impact is obvious. But there is a greater impact with a project of this scope, one not lost on Stevens. “This will be one of three places in the world where they do final assembly for wide-bodies — Everett, WA; Toulouse, France; and soon to be Charleston, SC. That’s a pretty big deal in anybody’s book, and we’re very excited about it.”
Comments a Boeing spokesperson, “This is a historic move for Boeing and for the aerospace industry in general. This will be the first time in history that Boeing has delivered a wide-body commercial airplane outside of the Puget Sound area. The new South Carolina facility will be one of only three of its kind in the world producing commercial wide-body aircraft. Customers from around the world will come to South Carolina to take delivery of their new 787s, many of whom have never visited the state.
“When we were making the decision to establish an additional 787 final assembly and delivery facility, we looked at all elements including the business environment, logistics, and infrastructure that exist in both Washington State and South Carolina.
“After taking all elements into consideration and carefully weighing them, it was clear to us that the most attractive business decision was to place growth capacity for the 787 in North Charleston.”
Stevens points out that one of the exciting features of the new Boeing complex is it will have its own delivery center here. “The delivery center itself is kind of a mini-airport,” she explains. “They’ll actually have boarding bridges and hold rooms just like in an airport; there will be offices there, too. It’s like a mini-terminal, to be able to host the dignitaries who show up to accept delivery of their airplanes.
“Apparently, they’ll be coming from all over the world. The airplanes will already be painted with the country’s or airline’s scheme. From what I’m told, it’s quite an event.
“If you look at Boeing’s website you will see their suppliers from all over the world. It’s not just their customers but the suppliers as well.”
Stevens says that besides the obvious on-airport impact of Boeing, the manufacturer is having an impact throughout the community. Case in point: Boeing has teamed up with the third largest college in South Carolina, Trident Technical, to train future employees on the science of composites, which are a large part of the Dreamliner’s construction, as well as hands-on training. At the end of the day, she says, it means jobs for local workers.
Production rate has increased three times in just over a year, including to five airplanes per month in November 2012 and seven per month in May 2013.
Many companies associated with civil or military aviation have a presence on the exhibit grounds just north of Paris.