Boeing Takes Steps Forward and Backward on 787

 - July 30, 2009, 5:29 AM

Boeing has given itself until the end of the third quarter to publicly outline its latest plan to get the 787 Dreamliner airborne and certified. Given that it can ill afford further false dawns with this troubled program, the U.S. airframer does well to allow itself until the end of September to explain how it will resolve the stress problems between the wing and the side-of-body that prevented it from achieving its already deferred goal of first flight before the end of June. Boeing said its engineers are well on the way to confirming a fix, which it claims will not be too onerous to implement. On the other hand, the continued lack of resolution on the issue has created a vacuum for speculation about the scope of the problem and the extent to which it will further delay certification and increase Boeing’s costs.

At the same time, the manufacturer seems to have shored up customer support for the 787 with no rush of order cancellations prompted by the latest setback. Though Qantas cut orders for fifteen 787-9s and delayed delivery of its first fifteen 787-8s by four years, the Australian carrier explicitly stated that this move was not the result of Boeing’s latest technical troubles. For its part, Qatar Airways has not followed through on the thinly veiled threat CEO Akbar Al Baker made at the Paris Air Show in June to punish the OEM by walking away from the 787. And Japan’s All Nippon Airways gave the program a shot in the arm by increasing its order tally from 50 to 55.

Meanwhile, Boeing may have issued a veiled threat of its own, in this case to its Seattle-area workforce when it confirmed a plan to acquire Vought’s factory in South Carolina. The company has downplayed speculation that the move could lead to the establishment of an alternative 787 production line in a nonunionized facility. However, this is not how it seems to have been interpreted on the other side of the U.S. in Washington state, where a strike has dented Boeing’s profitability. Overall, during the second quarter the manufacturer received new orders for fifteen 787s and cancellations for 41, most of which came before it acknowledged the latest delay to the June first flight.