Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boeing land deal could mean more jet work in N. Charleston

Boeing South Carolina is looking to amass more than 1,070 acres beneath and around its North Charleston aircraft plant for possible future expansions. 

 The Charleston County Aviation Authority voted today to begin talks to sell to Boeing about 320 acres the agency owns along International Boulevard, across the road from the aerospace giant’s 787 manufacturing campus.

A price has not been established.

Also, Boeing is seeking the rights to purchase another 488 acres closer to Dorchester Road, and it’s getting an option to acquire the 265 acres it now occupies at Charleston International Airport.

Boeing leases its 787 property from the airport. The company wants to be able to buy it outright by 2025, well before its lease is up in 2041.

The land deal was announced after an hour-long closed-door session that included airport authority members, Boeing officials and state lawmakers.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called Boeing’s proposal “excellent news for the region” as it signifies Boeing’s intention to expand their operations.

“They’re not in the business of land banking,” Riley told the packed board room.

Boeing assembles 787 Dreamliners at the airport with a workforce of more than 6,000 direct employees and contractors.

Boeing officials did not say exactly what the property will be used for. But some longtime observers of the Chicago-based aerospace giant already have some concrete ideas.

“We believe Boeing is preparing to eventually locate new airplane programs in Charleston rather than Washington State,” Scott Hamilton of Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Co. wrote in an email.

Hamilton said he would “not be at all suprised” to see the double-stretch Dreamliner, the 787-10, assembled in North Charleston. He also floated the possibility of the 777X or the eventual successor to the 737 MAX being made in South Carolina in the coming decades.

“This is entirely our assessment — we can’t say we know anything about this,” Hamilton said. “But the old adage is that if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it’s a duck. And this sure quacks to us.”

Check Friday’s editions of The Post and Courier for more details.

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