With just over twenty-four hours to go before the contracts of 26,800 machinists expire, Boeing is quickly running out of margin to achieve first flight of the 787 as the deadline for assembly completion of the first aircraft has reportedly slipped.

According to several sources inside the 787 programme and others familiar with the schedule, assembly completion of Dreamliner One is now tentatively targeted for early October, a slip of about five weeks.

Completion was initially set for 31 August, just four days prior to the expiration of a three-year contract Boeing has with the International Association of Machinists (IAM). The change in the airframer's internal schedule regarding Dreamliner One is separate from a potential machinists strike.

A Boeing spokeswoman today reaffirmed the 787 is "on track for first flight for the fourth quarter of this year".

According to another source familiar with the schedule change, the remaining work centres largely on the installation of flight test instrumentation and cabin equipment.

The slip was necessitated by the production of long lead-time parts resulting from design changes, as well as small, but time-consuming, issues arising from systems integration.

When Boeing announced its recovery plan for the 787 programme in April, the first flight was slated for late October. A five-week schedule slip would push first flight to early-to-mid December.

During the Farnborough air show in July, 787 General Manager and Programme VP Pat Shanahan said he was "eating margin" built into the schedule to provide a buffer between first flight and the close of the year.

Shanahan also said at the time first flight was set for November.

A December first flight of the first 787 would still meet Boeing's projected fourth quarter target. Though the change in targeted completion underscores just how tight the 787 schedule currently is, even before any impact of a potential IAM strike.

Despite the slip in assembly completion, Boeing is making strides in the 787 programme. Dreamliner One recently had all its movable control surfaces reinstalled and landing gear swing tests were successfully initiated.

In addition, section 43, the Kawasaki-built forward barrel of the centre fuselage, was declared shop complete.

Even with the remaining work left to complete assembly of Dreamliner One, the aircraft is set to move out of the factory to a slant position in Building 40-24 later this month, once the fatigue airframe is moved to the test rig.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news