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Originally published September 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 1, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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Boeing may acknowledge further 787 delays next week

Boeing is expected to announce Wednesday a further delay in the first flight of its 787 Dreamliner jet — one that could push that...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing is expected to announce Wednesday a further delay in the first flight of its 787 Dreamliner jet — one that could push that milestone into late October or beyond, according to a person close to the program.

Almost eight weeks after the jet rolled out with great fanfare in Everett, mechanics are still working to finish the airplane's structure, which was partly dismantled after the July 8 rollout ceremony.

Replacing thousands of temporary fasteners with permanent ones has taken longer than anticipated, and the installation of wiring and other systems has hardly begun, according to the source.

The result, said this person, is a substantial delay, but "there's a good chance it can still fly by the end of October." One major milestone known as "power on" — turning on the jet's electrical systems — is weeks away.

In July, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said the first flight would happen at the end of this month, though he conceded it might slip into early October.

Spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said Friday that this plan remains the target, but acknowledged that "the target date could well move into the fall as we proceed through the complex work of final assembly, systems integration and structural testing."

"There is an immense amount that must come together during the upcoming weeks and ... there are inherent risks that do not surface until this particular phase of airplane development," she said.

The 787 is the first commercial airliner built primarily out of composite plastic, and Boeing has distributed construction of all the major sections among partners around the globe.

Boeing partly dismantled the first 787 immediately after its rollout to allow mechanics to install systems — including electrical wiring, hydraulic tubes and the flight-deck instrumentation — and also to replace temporary fasteners.

"There's a lot of stuff that still has to take place" before first flight, said the person close to the program.

The tail of the airplane has been reattached, Boeing said Friday. However, other major pieces are still off, including the engines, the doors and the leading edges of the wings.

Boeing had more than two years ago set the date for the first flight as Aug. 27, according to internal Boeing documents obtained by The Seattle Times.

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For the first airplane, a great deal of systems-installation work that was supposed to have been completed by Boeing's major airframe partners had not been done before the airplane sections reached Everett. That prompted this summer's shift to the late-September date, which remains the official target.

"The plan is the plan until we know for sure we are going to change the plan," Leach said.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson and 787 program chief Mike Bair will provide more information at the Wednesday update, she said.

A further delay will raise concern that assembly of subsequent planes could also be more time consuming, and that the plane's first delivery date could be in jeopardy.

The program schedule is already tight. If the first airplane flies at the end of next month, that leaves only seven months for flight tests if the jet is to enter service on time in May 2008. The company allowed 11 months for flight tests on its last new jet, the 777.

The company's internal documents show that Boeing's original schedule plan was to build ten 787s by the end of 2007, including six by the end of next month, to provide aircraft for the flight-test program and feed the manufacturing pipeline to allow entry into service next summer.

Yet Boeing spokeswoman Leach on Friday reiterated that "we have in place contingency plans that would protect the planned May 2008 first delivery in the event that the date of first flight moves."

One veteran Boeing engineer said Friday that Boeing may now be paying for a hurried assembly job resulting from the rush to roll out the first jet in a ceremony tied to an artificial, marketing-inspired deadline.

"The 7/8/7 date was for show," he said. "The showmen at Boeing had the upper hand" over the engineers.

That a crunch is on in Everett is abundantly clear.

Boeing spokesman Jarrod Bartlett told the Wichita Eagle Monday that the company is seeking 60 to 80 mechanics from the defense facility in Wichita to volunteer for temporary work in Everett.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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