The top executive of the first airline that will operate The Boeing Co.'s 787 said he has been assured the Dreamliner is on track to arrive on time.
All Nippon Airways of Japan is scheduled to get that first plane next May, and Boeing executives, from Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney on down, have been saying the program will meet that all-important commitment.
Boeing has told Mineo Yamamoto the same thing. And it's unlikely Boeing would keep any potential setbacks from Yamamoto. He is president and chief executive of All Nippon Airways, the airline that started the ball rolling on development of the 787 in July 2004 with an order for 50 planes.
"There has been no talk about delays or anything like that," Yamamoto said in an interview Monday in Copenhagen, on the sidelines of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Star Alliance, of which ANA is a member.
After a series of proving flights, Yamamoto said, the airline probably will start passenger service with the plane within a couple of months of that first delivery, initially on domestic routes.
Some industry analysts are skeptical, despite Boeing's statements otherwise, that All Nippon Airways will pick up that first 787 next May. New airplane programs are filled with risks, and there is no better example of what can go wrong than what happened to Airbus and its A380. Wiring problems with the huge plane have delayed entry into airline service by nearly two years.
Airbus compounded the damage, though, by surprising its customers with the bad news.
Speaking through an interpreter, Yamamoto said Boeing has been straight with his airline, regularly updating it on technical issues that still must be resolved, such as weight.
Last year, Boeing acknowledged the 787 was probably about 2.5 tons overweight.
But Boeing said it has made progress, and the first plane delivered to All Nippon Airways will meet the promised weight.
That will be the seventh plane assembled. The first six test planes will all be overweight, according to Boeing.
Boeing won't know how much the 787 actually weighs until the first plane is assembled.
"Of course weight is an issue," Yamamoto said. "But I'm sure we will get over that working together. There are many technical issues that we are working on as part of the program."
The start of final assembly of the first Dreamliner is only days away at Boeing's Everett plant. The composite wings arrived Tuesday from Nagoya, Japan. Other large structures were delivered over the past couple of weeks.
On July 8, Boeing plans to unveil the first completed 787. Yamamoto will be among the customers at that event, watching with great interest.
"We are very happy," he said, when asked to sum up his thoughts about being the first customer for a plane that so far has sold faster than any jet that Boeing or Airbus has ever developed.
Through last month, Boeing had 567 firm orders from 40 customers.
But not Lufthansa. A growing number of the 17 full members of the Star Alliance eventually will operate the Dreamliner.
In addition to ANA, Air New Zealand, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines have ordered it. Shanghai Airlines, which will soon become a Star member, should have 787s in its fleet in time to carry passengers to the Olympics in China starting in August 2008.
But so far, Lufthansa Airlines, launch customer for Boeing's new 747-8 Intercontinental, has not joined the bandwagon.
In an interview in Copenhagen, Lufthansa Chief Executive Wolfgang Mayrhuber said Germany's flagship airline is not in any rush to choose between the 787 or Airbus A350.
"If we have all the data available and can conclude our analysis, it could happen in the latter part of the year," he said of an announcement. "But that is not a necessity. I'd like to do it this year, but it could slip into the first quarter of next year."
He said Lufthansa is interested only in bigger versions of both planes.
For Boeing, that means the 787-9 and the still undefined 787-10, which would seat more than 300 passengers.
The 787-10 would not be available until at least 2012, but that's a year before the Airbus A350-900 and three years before the A350-1000.
The A350 is bigger than the 787, and the A350-1000 is almost as big as Boeing's 777-300.
Mayrhuber said Lufthansa is evaluating data from Airbus on the A350-900 and the A350-1000.
Some industry analysts have suggested that Lufthansa may have signaled its intentions by not ordering the 787 when it became the launch customer in December for the 747-8 Intercontinental, Boeing's bigger and more efficient jumbo jet.
But Mayrhuber said that is not so.
"I don't want to take any short cuts (in the evaluation)," he said. "They are both (A350 and 787) in the race."
Mayrhuber also said he is not worried that Lufthansa remains the only airline customer for the 747-8 Intercontinental. It ordered 20 planes. He noted the freighter version of the 747-8 has been selling well. Through last month, Boeing had 63 orders.
The airline industry is taking more time before ordering the biggest passenger planes from Boeing or Airbus, Mayrhuber said. "There will be a breakthrough and more customers will come," he said of the 747-8 Intercontinental.
Aerospace Notebook is a Wednesday feature by P-I aerospace reporter James Wallace. He can be reached at 206-448-8040 or
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