By Harriet McLeod
NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Boeing Co is close to hitting its production target of building 10 of its high-tech 787 Dreamliner jets a month, a top Boeing executive said on Thursday.
"It's the fastest we've ever gone on any airplane," said Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina.
A 787 entered production at the new rate on November 14, Boeing said, but has not been completed.
Hitting the target would put Boeing on track to deliver at least 60 planes this year, Jones said. It has delivered 54 through November, despite a halt to deliveries for three months earlier this year because of overheating batteries.
Hitting the target also puts Boeing closer to its next goals of building 12 787s a month by mid-2016 and 14 a month by approximately 2019, Jones said.
Final assembly of the airplane takes place in North Charleston and at the company's huge factory in Everett, Washington. The aft- and mid-body fuselages for all 787s are made in North Charleston.
The South Carolina facility will begin commercial production of Boeing's larger 787-9 model, which is being tested, next fall, Jones said.
"We want Seattle to wring out all the issues and bugs like we would any airplane because they have the smarts, they have the sophistication. Once they do that, we'll be ready" to start production.
Boeing also will announce in the first quarter of 2014 where it will build it planned "stretch" 787-10, now on the drawing board, Jones said.
The South Carolina facility will build its aft- and mid-body fuselages, and speculation has centered on South Carolina to assemble the final airplane because the fuselage might be too big to fit on Boeing's large cargo plane, called the Dreamlifter.
With modifications, "there's a possibility that it could get on there," Jones said, referring to the Dreamlifter.
This year, Boeing's South Carolina plant has expanded its aft- and mid-body factories, added an information technology center and an engineering design center, and has broken ground on a propulsion center. Boeing research and technology has added a manufacturing technology center in North Charleston.
"We won't have to rely on Seattle as much," Jones said.
Boeing has about 6,700 employees in South Carolina, he said. The North Charleston facility has about 400 engineers, said Dan Mooney, vice president of engineering for Boeing South Carolina, who relocated from Seattle.
Last week, Boeing leased 468 more acres in North Charleston to add to its current campus of 264 acres. The company plans a new paint facility on part of the acreage but has not said what it will build on the rest.
"We do not have any other plans (for the land)," Jones said. "There's no plan on the side or in secret."
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Alwyn Scott and Tim Dobbyn)