Durham GE Aviation plant marks 20 years

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 02:56 PM

Since its opening 20 years ago in Durham, workers at GE Aviation’s aircraft engine assembly plant here have assembled about 14,000 engines and engine cores, the plant’s manager said.

Mike Wagner spoke at an anniversary ceremony held at the Miami Boulevard facility on Wednesday. The event included former and current plant managers and staff.

The facility was previously used by GE’s Energy business for building steam turbine engines, Wagner said. The facility then was dormant, he said, and the company’s aviation business was expanding.

The location was chosen for aircraft assembly because of the company’s partnership with state and local government, the existing infrastructure at the site and also because North Carolina is a right-to-work state, among other factors, he said.

The plant now employs 316 technicians and 34 support staff. Wagner said that the plant’s staff could grow to as many as 400 technicians due to increases in assembly of the engine products it currently handles, as well as the potential for new products.

Currently, the plant handles nine different product lines. Assembly of one engine line is moving to Brazil, he said. That should allow for future growth of new products here, he said.

It hasn’t been announced which facility will do the primary assembly of the Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion or LEAP engine, Wagner said, and Durham could be the primary or secondary facility. The LEAP is the next generation of the CFM engine, according to the GE Aviation website. It’s scheduled to enter service in 2016 or 2017.

Currently, one of the engines that the plant assembles is the GEnx. The GEnx-1B is one of two engines that powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It was announced in 2006 that assembly would be done in Durham.

Last year alone, the company shipped 120 GEnx engines, Wagner said. This year, he said, they want to ship 214.

He said they’re making infrastructure changes to double the plant’s internal GEnx production. They’re looking to increase their capacity from four to eight GEnx engines per week.

“We are moving full steam ahead,” Wagner said.

Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation, said in an email that the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner has had “very little impact” on GEnx production.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been grounded since January due to battery incidents. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency directive to address potential battery fire risk in the 787, requiring U.S. operators to cease operations. United Airlines was the only U.S. airline with 787s in service.

Battery-related incidents included an emergency landing of an All Nippon Airways Boeing 787. The airlines’ 787s have Rolls-Royce engines, according to Kennedy.

There was also a battery incident in a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Logan International Airport in Boston. Japan Airlines’ Boeing 787s are GEnx-powered, according to Kennedy.

 “Deliveries continue,” Kennedy said Wednesday. “(The Federal Aviation Administration) has not cleared the aircraft yet, but they are progressing.”

The Durham plant is one of 50 domestic sites for GE Aviation, which has another 30 in other parts of the globe.