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Boeing Forced to Postpone First Flight of the Dreamliner

Boeing forced to postpone first flight of the Dreamliner

Boeing has delayed the first flight of the revolutionary new 787 Dreamliner by at least three months and now risks missing its deadline for first delivery of the aircraft next year.

The 787, which will be 50 per cent made from composite plastics, has orders worth $116 billion (£57 billion) and is one of world’s most high-profile industrial projects.

The delay has prompted concern among analysts, who believe that the five to six-month testing period that this would leave is too short for such an unconventional aircraft.

The company said yesterday that the first flight would now take place in “the late Fall” – specifically mid-November to mid-December.
The original plan was for a first flight at the end of August, but this was moved to mid-September and then late September during the summer.

The rolling delay echoes the problems that bedevilled Boeing’s rival Airbus on its A380 project. These delays eventually amounted to two years and have cost Airbus billions of euros in lost revenues and compensation payments to customers.

Boeing’s first customer for the 787 is All Nippon Airways, which is due to receive its first aircraft next May. It is thought to want to introduce the aircraft in time for the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

The delay is being blamed on difficulties with the flight systems software and also with assembly documentation. Mike Blair, Boeing’s director for the 787 programme, said: “This is a really complex puzzle and we have to be really careful how we put it together. We won’t fly the 787 until it’s ready, so we will not speculate on an exact date.”

If the aircraft makes its first flight in December, it will have only five months to achieve certification by aviation authorities.

The last new aircraft Boeing introduced was the 777 in 1994. Its flight testing programme lasted 12 months.

“There is no way the 787 can be certified in five months,” one analyst said. “The 777 was a more traditional aircraft and it took a year. The 787 is unlike anything we’ve seen and will need intensive testing to reassure the authorities and passengers that the composite shell is safe.”

Mr Blair admitted that the shortened flight testing period was a risk. “We had a very compressed programme with some back-end buffer,” he said. “What we are doing is eating into that buffer and that will increase the risk.”

Boeing rolled out the 787 from its factory in Everett, Washington State, on July 8 – the date, 7/8/07, in American usage reflecting the aircraft’s name. Yet to meet that date the jet had to be assembled using temporary fasteners. Then it was apart and reassembled, which has caused problems with certification and documentation of parts.

“There are as many people working on documentation as assembling the plane,” Mr Blair said yesterday.

The 787 is the fastest-selling passenger aircraft and its popularity is due to its composite construction, which makes it lighter than traditional aluminium fuselages. The 787 is estimated to be at least 20 per cent more fuel-efficient than existing aircraft. Composites have previously been used only on military aircraft.

Boeing also announced yesterday that Aeroflot, the Russian airline, will buy 22 787s worth $3.6 billion at list prices.

— Jean-Cyril Spinetta, the chairman of Air France-KLM, dismayed investors yesterday as he revived the prospect of a link with Alitalia, his beleaguered Italian rival. Less than a year after walking away from a merger with the debt-ridden carrier, Mr Spinetta added weight to speculation that his group could be tempted by a minority stake. He also said that he may challenge BA for control of Iberia. The British airline is part of a consortium bidding for Spain’s flagship carrier.

By: David Robertson

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