Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Scott Carson has left himself little room to manoeuvre. Acknowledging that repeated delays to the 787's first flight and first deliveries have damaged Boeing's credibility, he has committed the company to meeting the latest schedule and declared: "We will pass this test."

What he has committed to is flying the first 787 by the end of June - a further delay of three months - but Carson has been careful not to make a similar commitment on deliveries. He says Boeing still has to assess the impact of the delay on flight testing and delivery. The latter will depend a lot on what Boeing's customers will accept and its suppliers can deliver.

Carson says he will not know the answer until the end of the first quarter, but he is "fairly confident" Boeing will not deliver the 109 aircraft planned for 2009. The last time the company delayed the 787 it stuck to its original production plan, a decision that was greeted with much scepticism. Now it cannot avoid the negative publicity and penalty payments that will result from disappointing its customers.

New 787 programme manager Pat Shanahan says he has confidence in the new schedule. He has been in the job only 90 days, but those 90 days have seen Boeing finally get a grip on the fundamental driver of the delays - the need to complete work left unfinished by suppliers before it can complete final assembly and get power on the aircraft. But Shanahan also admits there is not much margin left in the new schedule.

Over the next two months, Carson and Shanahan are going to find out how willing 787 customers are to accommodate the delays, and how able Boeing's global supply chain is to ramp up production. Airlines are going to demand compensation and some suppliers may not be up to the task. Shanahan is talking of adjusting the work sequence and we may yet see a substantial readjustment of the production plan.

Carson was probably right, at this point, to limit his commitment "to deliver on what we say we will do" - to flying the 787 by the end of June. That will be nail-biting enough. Any commitment to deliveries would probably be worthless at this stage. Boeing will complete its impact assessment around the same time it gets power on the first aircraft. Both milestones will substantially reduce the risk facing the programme.

Then will be a good time for Carson to make a similar, unequivocal commitment to delivering to airlines the aircraft they so clearly want.


Source: Flight International