Boeing's Lightweight Plane Ready for Launch

Boeing sets new test flight date for delayed 787

By DANIEL LOVERING
|  Thursday, Aug 27, 2009  |  Updated 1:15 PM CDT
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Boeing to Tower: We're Clear for Take Off

AFP/Getty Images

Boeing's new plane should debut soon.

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Boeing Co. said Thursday its long-delayed 787 jetliner will be ready for its maiden test flight by year's end and its first delivery in the fourth quarter next year. But Wall Street remains skeptical.

The initial flight of the next-generation plane, built for fuel efficiency with lightweight carbon composite parts, was originally slated for the fall of 2007. But production problems delayed the passenger jet five times and first deliveries are more than two years behind their original schedule.

After so many false starts, airline customers have grown irritated and analysts skeptical of the company's timetables for the 787. Billions of dollars in penalties and expenses are expected from the delays, and they've hurt the Chicago company's credibility.

Boeing came under sharp questioning in a conference call after the announcement. One analyst, Howard Rubel of Jefferies & Co., asked why the latest schedule is "any better" than ones issued previously by the company.

Boeing will now book a pretax charge of $2.5 billion, or $2.21 per share, in the third quarter related to the 787 program, the company said Thursday. The charge includes a write-off for the first three test planes, which Boeing says customers don't want.

With the 787, the company has taken a new approach to building airplanes, relying on overseas suppliers to build huge sections of the plane that are later assembled at the company's commercial aircraft plant near Seattle.

But ill-fitting parts and other problems have hampered production. The latest delay came in June, when the company said it needed to reinforce areas close to where the wings and fuselage join.

Still, the jet remains Boeing's best-selling new plane and a priority as it struggles with sharply lower orders caused by weak demand for air travel. Boeing currently has 850 orders for the 787.

The company and some analysts say the 787 eventually will prove a financial and technological success.

With a new schedule set for now, shares of Boeing rose $4.46, or 9.3 percent, to $52.28 in midday trading.

The 787 is Boeing's first all-new jetliner since the 777, which airlines began flying in 1995.

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