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Tue, Mar 20, 2007

Boeing Says 787 Is On Target For July 8 Rollout, August First Flight

Production Likely To Increase Over Earlier Projections

Rumors of our delays have been greatly exaggerated. That's the message Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson and 787 program manager Mike Bair had for reporters and investors Monday. Both men said the company intends to roll out the first 787 in early July -- 07/08/07 (get it?) -- with first flight sometime in late August. The company remains on track to deliver the first customer Dreamliner in 2008.

In the update -- coinciding, likely not by chance, with the American debut of rival Airbus' A380 on US soil -- Bair said Boeing will likely increase production of the aircraft in the future. That's not in response to the nearly 500 orders Boeing now has on the books, Bair said -- but rather comes in light of the potential for "three times as many" orders now under consideration by several airlines.

Bair added the planemaker remains cautious of ramping up production rates, and that any such increase would occur following the first two years of initial production. Customer response to the airliner has been "surprising" even to Boeing, Bair said, and currently the plane is sold out through 2013.

Bair also took pains to reassure investors the airliner's composite structure is proving workable. Major assembly work and testing of several large components of "plane one" has been completed at Boeing's facility in Everett, WA.

"The quality of the composite parts is better than we expected," Bair said. "The airplane is about 98% designed. We've implemented designs on the parts that need to be redesigned." Bair also noted Boeing's effort to trim weight and increase efficiency appear to have paid off, as after weighing components that make up about 1/4 of a completed Dreamliner, Boeing found the plane is coming in "lighter than we expected."

Perhaps in response to comments made last week by Airbus COO John Leahy -- who hinted to as much as asix-month delay in the Dreamliner program, citing comments made by unnamed suppliers -- Bair reiterated some systems work originally planned to be handled by contractors was brought in-house for the first aircraft, after those companies experienced problems.

"That's not a problem if they say, "we need help," Bair said, adding the plane remains on its original development schedule. Boeing expects those issues to be resolved by the time production ramps up.

In a subtle "dig" against the A380, Bair added "we don't anticipate any big issues with wiring."

FMI: www.boeing.com

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