SEATTLE – At the giant plant north of Seattle where most 787 Dreamliners are made, Boeing Co mechanics and engineers darted back and forth quickly and quietly on Wednesday, readying aircraft for delivery even as U.S. authorities grounded them.
Across the highway from the Everett plant at Paine Field airport, a line of completed 787s stood gleaming in the bright afternoon sun beneath the snow-capped Cascade mountains, waiting to be picked up by their owners.
That likely will not happen anytime soon, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration moved to ground the aircraft temporarily after a second incident involving a lithium ion battery caused an emergency landing.
That means none of the 787s idling in Everett, 25 miles north of Seattle, can fly anywhere, and the plane parking lot at adjacent Paine Field could soon get crowded as Boeing continues production unabated.
Boeing has two 787 production lines at Everett, and one at its new factory in Charleston, South Carolina, which produce five Dreamliners a month between them. That means at least three will come off the line at Everett per month.
Boeing tows completed 787s from its Everett plant across a bridge over a highway to Paine Field when they are ready to fly away or need final adjustments. It is usually done late at night so as not to startle drivers below, who may not expect to see a massive plane 20 feet above them.
On Wednesday, one apparently completed Air India 787 stood outside the factory while another six, painted in the liveries of All Nippon Airways, China's Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines, and LOT Polish Airlines, were lined up next to the runway at Paine Field.
Boeing said on Wednesday it was continuing production as usual and would not comment on any planned deliveries.
Inside the 787 plant - part of the biggest building in the world by volume - work continued without any sign of stress on the shop floor.
The process of assembling the carbon-composite 787 is quieter and less labor-intensive than Boeing's traditional aluminum airframes, chiefly because there is no need to drill thousands of metal rivets noisily into the structure.
In the final four assembly positions on Wednesday were two aircraft painted in the livery of British group Thomson Airways, and one each for All Nippon and JAL.
A viewing gallery above one production line is open to the public as part of a tour organized by the Future of Flight museum next door to the plant.
On Wednesday, the tour was attended by a dozen tourists. Nobody asked about 787 safety issues.
(Editing by Dan Lalor)