Updated: Boeing CEO Jim McNerney calls N. Charleston 787 campus “a big deal”

Updated: Boeing CEO Jim McNerney calls N. Charleston 787 campus “a big deal”


Boeing’s top executives heaped praise on the North Charleston 787 complex during the company’s annual investor meeting held on Kiawah Wednesday morning, while broadcasting sharp challenges, including to its suppliers and main competitor, Airbus.

“We’re glad you could see it for yourself yesterday,” CEO Jim McNerney told the gathered analysts, referring to Tuesday’s tour of the local factories. “It’s a big deal. It took a long time, but we’re on the other side now.”

McNerney said having Boeing South Carolina is not only helping reduce the enormous 787 order backlog but also gives the company “choice” when deciding where to place future work, like the upcoming 787-10X stretch Dreamliner and the 777X.

“Now that we have internal competition, we’re going to get much better deals — much better deals,” he said, seemingly a nod to the government and unions in Boeing’s historic planemaking hub near Seattle.

McNerney touted Boeing’s recently adopted “Partnering for Success” program that aims to cut costs within the supply chain and has involved some tough letters sent to problem suppliers.

“They will feel the pain,” McNerney said of suppliers who aren’t efficient enough. “They’ll be on a corporate ‘no-fly’ list for the next program.”

Boeing also unveiled more specifics about how its 787 and 777X models would compete with European rival Airbus’ A350 jet, which is expected to fly for the first time this summer.

“We’re about five years ahead of them and we’re going to bracket them,” McNerney said of the approximately 350-seat 777-8X and approximately 400-seat 777-9X.

“We’re way ahead of them and it’s going to be fun,” he continued, before joking, “shamelessly objective as I am.”

In addition to McNerney, Boeing finance chief and the leaders of the company’s commercial and defense units also spoke and took questions. Breakout sessions with other executives followed.

Boeing didn’t say ahead of time where the conference was, but analyst reports said it would be in Charleston, and at the beginning of his comments Wednesday morning, McNerney said “this is Kiawah.”

The conference comes as the 787 is getting back in the air after a three-month grounding due to a battery problem and after Boeing announced another major expansion in South Carolina boosted by a major government incentive package.

Boeing commercial airplanes chief Ray Conner described the company’s 6,000-worker operation in North Charleston as “truly a remarkable story,” noting that the factories that handle the mid- and aft-body sections of the Dreamliner are now churning out seven a month.

“That place is starting to really hum,” Conner said.

He also addressed the recent return of the 787 to commercial service after the worldwide grounding.

“Some people would say we did three years of work in three months, and I would agree with that,” Conner said.

He also noted that the fact that he’s never visited or played golf on Kiawah during his previous trips to South Carolina shows how focused he and Boeing have been on the 787 program.

Boeing assembles the jets in North Charleston and Everett, Wash.

See Thursday’s editions of The Post and Courier for more details.

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