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Originally published September 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 5, 2007 at 7:18 PM

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787 flight delay blamed on unfinished structures, software

Boeing announced Wednesday that its first 787 Dreamliner won't fly until sometime between mid-November and mid-December, six to eight weeks...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

787 program chief Mike Bair comments on today's delay

Further delays to first flight:

"We don't see a high probability, or even a low probability, of it moving out of the year (2007)."

If flight tests discover issues requiring redesign or rework of the plane:

"We're rapidly running out of time to be able to deal with anything big."

The shortage of fasteners, which led to widespread use of temporary fasteners on the first plane:

"We didn't digitally simulate missing thousands of fasteners. {$326} In hindsight maybe we should have been more diligent in looking at that, but it certainly wasn't something that was on our radar screen."

The accelerated pace of flight tests (about 120 flying hours per plane monthly, compared with 70 or 80 hours on the 777):

"We're essentially going to be running an airline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

Boeing's global partners:

"What we're dealing with on Airplane 1 is absolutely not indicative of what their capability is or how the rest of the airplanes are going to come in. ... I've got great confidence this is (an) anomaly".

Building the first airliner from composites:

"It is going to be a continued voyage of discovery."

Source: Boeing's Sept. 5 conference call

Boeing announced Wednesday that its first 787 Dreamliner won't fly until sometime between mid-November and mid-December, six to eight weeks later than anticipated after the airplane rolled out in July.

The delay creates a severe schedule crunch that will necessitate round-the-clock flight testing after first flight.

Boeing needs the extra time to finish structural work that was not completed by its airframe partners in Italy, Japan, Kansas and South Carolina. It also must finish and integrate the flight control software code supplied by the Phoenix, Ariz.-based aerospace unit of systems partner Honeywell.

Boeing executives insisted in a conference call with media and Wall Street analysts that the delay — the second, following a one-month delay announced in July — is due to temporary issues rather than fundamental flaws in its production process.

"On our partners' performance, what we are dealing with on airplane one is absolutely not indicative of what their capability is or how the rest of the airplanes are going to come in," said Mike Bair, head of the Dreamliner program, "I have got great confidence that this is an anomaly with putting the first aeroplane together."

The Boeing partners are being given more time to finish the aircraft that follow the first one, Bair said, so that those can arrive in Everett more complete, as originally planned.

Despite the flight delay, Bair said Boeing can still deliver the first airplane to All Nippon Airways of Japan on time in May 2008.

But to achieve that, Boeing must now pull out all the stops.

The time available for flight tests has now shrunk to around six months, from nine months in the original 787 development plan. Boeing will therefore operate flight tests 24/7 with a team of 34 test pilots.

"We're essentially going to be running an airline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Bair.

Soon after first flight, additional aircraft will join the test program "every two or three weeks" until there are a total of six jets in test flights, he said.

And Boeing has no wiggle room left if further issues surface later.

The compression of the schedule, Bair said, is "eliminating time that we might have had to deal with anything unexpected that might come up."

Following rumors and leaks since last week, the financial markets were not shocked by the announcement. Boeing shares remained almost flat, closing at $95.84.

Wall Street analysts were reassured on the conference call by Boeing commercial airplanes chief executive Scott Carson that even if a two- or three-month delay in entry into service did happen, that would have a minimal financial impact on Boeing.

Still, industry analysts were left less confident than before.

This is the first setback to the program that has caused a significant delay. While most were willing to accept Boeing's explanations, they were skeptical that the first airplane can really be delivered in May 2008.

"I don't share their confidence," said aviation analyst Scott Hamilton in an interview on the IAG aviation Web site. "I admire their chutzpah."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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