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Fri, Aug 10, 2007

Report: Dreamliner Won't Take Flight Until October

Systems Integration To Blame; Boeing Still Hopes For Sooner

Citing unnamed sources, a Seattle newspaper reported Thursday the first flight of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has slipped to sometime in October.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said systems integration issues are to blame for the delay. The paper's sources said engineers are experiencing difficulties with installing flight control systems and software, and getting those components "talking" with other systems in the highly-integrated airliner.

In an attempt to ease concerns, on Friday Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said the American planemaker is still targeting late September for the first 787 flight, but conceded "that date could move into fall as we proceed to do all the work in front of us."

"We remain on schedule for entry into service in 2008," the planemaker said in a prepared statement Thursday, when asked to comment on the P-I story. "The pockets of behind-schedule condition vary. Since recovery plans are in place, our overall assessment is that we are on schedule."

As ANN reported, Boeing unveiled the 787 in a lavish public rollout ceremony July 8. At that time, the aircraft was little more than a shell -- with very few of its internal systems installed and connected.

Last month, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said it was possible the Dreamliner's first flight could slip to October... but he also made clear Boeing intended to have the plane flying by the end of September... in itself about a month later than first planned.

"We feel we could still deliver the plane on time even if we pushed a little beyond (the end of September)," McNerney said during a conference call with analysts and media to discuss second-quarter earnings. "But that's not the plan. The plan is to fly by the end of September."

Any delay would cast doubts on Boeing's ability to meet its own ambitious schedule for the 787. Boeing planned to have the first airliner certified and flying for All Nippon Airways by the end of May 2008, with several more in the hands of Chinese airlines in time for the Olympic Games in August.

A delay into October -- and one of the P-I's sources said "we are talking about more than a few days" -- would leave Boeing less than eight months to meet those goals. By comparison, the last all-new Boeing airliner, the 777, took about 11 months for flight tests to be completed.

Though wary, analysts on Wall Street remain convinced Boeing will still meet its goal, and not fall into a production quagmire similar to what plagued rival Airbus last year with its A380 superjumbo.

"I would not be too surprised or concerned to see something get pushed out a couple months," said analyst J.B. Groh of D.A. Davidson & Co. "Production issues like you saw with Airbus would be a major concern. But at this point, I don't see that happening."

Stay tuned.

FMI: www.boeing.com

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