Experts: Is 787 delay long enough?

Oct. 13--Boeing announced a six-month delay this week in its new 787 Dreamliner program, and risks remain for more delays, according to some aviation analysts.

Boeing's revised timetable rightly provides a cushion to the flight test schedule, they said. But there's no safety net in its production ramp-up schedule.

"It's not going to go the way they planned it," said Richard Aboulafia, Teal Group vice president for analysis. He expects additional delivery delays.

Boeing is still planning to build the 787 close to its previous schedule. By the time the first 787 is ready for delivery -- in late November or December next year -- about 40 planes will be near completion, Boeing officials said this week.

Boeing said it plans to build 109 jetliners through 2009, just three less than originally planned. That includes 30 to 35 planes with delivery dates shifted from 2008 to 2009.

"They're counting on an aggressive schedule to get them back on track by the end of 2009," said Joseph Campbell, Lehman Bros. managing director of aerospace research. "The question is, 'How hard will that be?' "

Although it's risky, Campbell disagrees with those who say it can't be done.

"I hope they make it," he said.

Scott Carson, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive, said Wednesday that the new plan is achievable.

Boeing will apply the lessons learned on the production of the first 787 to other planes, Carson said. After the first aircraft, the company will know what it's dealing with, even though the first 28 planes or so will continue to be made with out-of-sequence work.

But some analysts said that any changes resulting from flight certification will require modifications to the airplanes already built.

"You're implementing tweaks and keeping up the pace on new shipments, and you're going to push 109 out the door?" Aboulafia said. "That's a virtually impossible task."

Boeing announced Wednesday that it was pushing back its flight test program and first deliveries. The revision was due to parts shortages, out-of-sequence and traveled work, and delays in flight control systems installation. Solving those problems has taken longer than expected.

The 787's first flight was originally planned for August, but was pushed back to September. Last month, it was pushed back again to the November-December timeframe.

Now, the plan is to fly the plane for the first time around the end of March 2008. The first delivery won't be made until late November or December of 2008, the company said.

Air Nippon Airways is scheduled to take delivery of the first 787. It had planned to use the aircraft to carry passengers to the Olympics next summer in Beijing, China.

"We regret that the delivery of the 787 will be delayed and we hope to keep the impact of the delay to a minimum," the airline said in a statement.

Cowen and Co. managing director and senior research analyst Cai von Rumohr said he doesn't think airlines will cancel 787 orders.

"Why are they going to cancel?" he said. "Its (Airbus) alternative isn't out until 2013, and it's hard to get a slot."

Boeing's announcement took no one in the industry by surprise. It was apparent the company wouldn't meet its schedule.

"It was like the emperor has no clothes," said one aerospace analyst. "Everybody knows it was in trouble in some fashion."

Boeing has a good track record with new jet programs. The delay in the 787 is its biggest to date.

"Boeing generally has not been late," von Rumohr said.

"To be a little late isn't a big deal. When you get to six months, you're late."

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or []

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