Boeing is running out of Dreamliner parking spots

The giant grounded planes are taking up lots of precious space near the assembly plants, but they're tough to move considering the 787 can't fly.

By Jason Notte Feb 20, 2013 4:52PM
A line of Boeing 787 jets are parked nose-to-tail at Paine Field Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, in Everett, Wash. (© Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)Hey, pal, we don't care if your Dreamliner's battery needs a jump: You can't park that thing here.

Like a used car lot after the oil crisis in the '70s, Boeing (BA) fields around Seattle are quickly filling with oversized product nobody wants. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the company, which had its 787 Dreamliners grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration five weeks ago after lithium-ion batteries in two Japanese Dreamliners caught fire, is slowly running out of space to store Dreamliners it's producing at its plants in Everett, Wash., and Charlotte, S.C.

The main problem is the planes just can't fly. Sources close to Boeing say the issue with the Dreamliner's battery is almost fixed, but the National Transportation Safety Board says its probe into the battery's problems is still "probably weeks away" from completion. In the meantime, Boeing factories continue to crank out Dreamliners at the pace of one per week.

It's not as if there was a whole lot of space kicking around to begin with. Large airliners began falling out of vogue during the 2008 fuel crisis, when the Chicago Tribune says United Airlines (UAL) started parking its nearly 100 older Boeing 737s and, more important, six of its jumbo 747s. As Bloomberg reported last year, hulking 747s are eating up a lot more tarmac and hangar space as airlines ground them or retire them completely in favor of smaller or more lightweight planes.

Unfortunately, the big, reinforced-plastic 787 Dreamliner was supposed to be a major part of those airlines' weight-loss plans. Right now, though, 16 of them are sitting on 22 acres at Paine Field in Everett until they're either cleared to fly or can be moved piece by piece with the help of Dreamlifters, which are modified 747s. Another 15 or so sit at Boeing's own factory in Everett.

With that many parked and commercial aircraft storage facilities in Arizona and California still too far away for a plane that can't fly, why not just halt the assembly lines until Boeing gets some room to breathe? Because it's not just the assembly plants that have to worry about storage space. The Dreamliner's supply chain includes engines built in the U.K., a fuselage built in Italy and parts of the wing built in Korea, Australia and Japan. One less plane on a field in Everett means two more giant wings at a factory in Japan and so on.

While the Charleston plant doesn't have to deal with such issues right now, because only four of the seven stalls at its Charleston International Airport location are filled, it's only a matter of time until it's squeezed for space as well.

For anyone with a runway-sized driveway in the greater Seattle or Charleston areas, here's that big moneymaking opportunity you've been waiting for. Just warn the neighbors.

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