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S.C. officials worked years to win the 787 plant prize

While Boeing Co. did not publicly disclose plans for a second 787 assembly line until this year, the effort to lure the investment and jobs to South Carolina can be traced back to June 2003.

It was then that Gov. Mark Sanford's office and then-Commerce Secretary Bob Faith acknowledged the state had received a "request for proposal" from the airplane manufacturer.

At the time, Boeing was looking at cities all over the country for places to build the first assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner jet, then called the 7E7.

The company sent out a 27-page questionnaire to narrow the list of candidates.

In the tight-lipped world of economic development, Boeing's eagerness to publicize the early phase of its site selection was highly unorthodox. It was dubbed "an open beauty contest."

"We're hot and heavy after it," Faith said at the time. "We have as good a shot as anybody."

A site at Charleston International Airport ended up as one of the four finalists.

But it was not to be. In December of that year, Boeing informed crestfallen officials it had elected to build the line at its longtime commercial aircraft manufacturing hub in Everett, Wash. The Evergreen State also put together a $3.2 billion incentive package South Carolina declined to match, officials said at the time.

Also, a corporate shake-up that resulted in the departure of Boeing's chief financial officer and chief executive officer prompted the board of directors to think more conservatively about the site. A brand new plant in South Carolina would have been a very bold move for the aerospace giant, given its long history in the Seattle area.

It was not long before a consolation prize emerged in form of Dallas-based Vought Aircraft Industries, which needed a new factory to build rear fuselage sections for the 787. That relationship with Boeing steered Vought in late 2004 to build its factory the Charleston airport site, along with another Dreamliner supplier, Global Aeronautica.

Boeing bought out Vought's local plant this summer in a deal valued at $1 billion. It previously had acquired a 50 percent stake in Global Aeronautica.

And now, it is building the new 787 plant right next door.

Dreamliner timeline

2003

June 15: The 7E7 is named "Dreamliner" after about 500,000 votes are cast in a promotion to name the aircraft. Boeing's board approves the development of the new jet later that year.

2004

April 26: Boeing launches the Dreamliner program with an order for 50 of the new airplanes from All Nippon Airways.

Dec. 1: Dallas-based Vought Aircraft Industries and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica form a joint venture to supply Boeing with 787 fuselage components. They will build a $560 million manufacturing complex at Charleston International Airport. Vought will run one plant by itself; the other will be run through a joint venture, Global Aeronautica.

2005

Jan. 28: Boeing gives the 7E7 its official model designation number: 787.

2006

June 8: Vought-Alenia facility opens in North Charleston.

June 30: Boeing and its partner, Fuji Heavy Industries, celebrate the start of major assembly for the first 787. FHI is assembling the center wing section at its new factory in Handa, Japan.

2007

Jan. 16: The 747-400 Dreamlifter delivers the first 787 major assemblies to Global Aeronautica in North Charleston.

May 21: Final assembly begins on the first 787 in Everett, Wash.

July 8: The first 787 rolls out of the factory near Seattle.

Aug. 27: Boeing had set this date for its inaugural test flight, but production problems, including some stemming from North Charleston, force the company to push that back. The first test flight has been rescheduled six times since then, causing deliveries to be delayed. That inspired an unflattering nickname for the plane: the 7-Late-7.

2008

June 11: Boeing says it is acquiring Vought Aircraft Industries' interest in Global Aeronautica, the North Charleston fuselage sub-assembly facility for the 787. It becomes a 50-50 joint venture between Boeing and Alenia Aeronautica.

2009

July 7: Boeing confirms a $1 billion deal to buy the local operations of Vought Aircraft, one of its key 787 suppliers, and says North Charleston is one site being considered for a second, full-blown 787 assembly line.

Aug. 26: Boeing applies for permits in case it decides to build the second line in North Charleston.

Sept. 10: Members of the International Association of Machinists vote to disband their union at the North Charleston Boeing plant.

Oct. 21: Boeing narrows its choices of sites for its second 787 line to Everett, Wash., and North Charleston. CEO Jim McNerney says the jet will fly by the end of 2009.

Oct. 28: Boeing picks North Charleston for the new line.

- Warren Wise, The (Charleston) Post and Courier

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