Boeing delays 787 Dreamliner yet again

Boeing has delayed its 787 Dreamliner aircraft for the third time, pushing the programme about 15 months behind schedule, as it makes slow progress on assembling the revolutionary carbon-composite plane and continues to grapple with underperforming suppliers.

The delay was at the low end of Wall Street's expectations, as the company had already admitted to problems with late redesigns of the new aircraft and the amount of work being done at its plant in Everett, Washington, that should have been completed by suppliers.

"Also, while the fundamental technologies and design of the 787 remain sound, we have inserted some additional schedule margin for dealing with other issues we may uncover in testing prior to first flight and in the flight test programme."

Boeing's plan was to outsource almost all major manufacturing to outside companies and then assemble the plane in Everett. It has since found that such a decentralised structure makes it hard to keep a check on suppliers' mistakes and delays.

"Over the past few months, we have taken strong actions to confront and overcome start-up issues on the programme and we have made solid progress," said Boeing commercial airplanes president and CEO Scott Carson. "Nevertheless, the travelled work situation and some unanticipated rework have prevented us from hitting the milestones we laid out in January."

Despite problems, the 787 is still the most successful launch in Boeing's history in terms of sales, racking up orders for 892 planes worth more than $145 billion at list prices. However, the latest delay means the company will have to compensate airlines for late deliveries.

Under its latest schedule, Boeing has pushed back its target for the first test flight by at least three months and postponed first deliveries by about six months, to give it more time to sort out production problems and deal with issues arising from the test flight process.

The first plane will be powered up in June for an extended test period, with the first test flight now expected in the fourth quarter of this year, as opposed to its previous target of late June 2008. It was originally planned for last summer.

The first 787 delivery, to Japan's All Nippon Airways Co, has been put back to the third quarter of 2009, with about 25 aircraft delivered by the end of the year. Production will follow a "more traditional" ramp rate, reaching 10 planes a month during 2012.

Pat Shanahan, 787 vice president and programme manager, said he had confidence in the new milestones. "We have addressed the major challenges that slowed our progress while trying to complete the primary structure ̵1; the parts shortages, engineering changes and manufacturing changes ̵1; and we are well into the systems installation that is the precursor to putting power on the airplane for the first time.

"We have also worked closely with our partners to achieve higher levels of completion of their parts of subsequent airplanes and we will continue to drive improvements in the supply chain and production system performance," he said.

Image: The first 787 being put together in Boeing's Everett factory

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