Northwest Airlines expects to begin accepting delivery of Boeing 787 aircraft in the first quarter of 2009, several months after its original August 2008 delivery.

While the SkyTeam alliance member continues to work with Boeing on the 787 delivery schedule, the carrier anticipates delivery "well ahead of the peak summer season", president and CEO Doug Steenland said today during an earnings conference call.

Boeing recently opted to delay initial 787 deliveries by six months due to challenges in the assembly process.

Steenland says Northwest does not expect to receive compensation from Boeing for the delay. But he notes that the carrier’s aircraft capital expenditure for 2008 will be $1.1 billion, or $700 million less than previous guidance due to the delay.

The 787 will support Northwest’s proposed Detroit-Shanghai flights. The carrier received tentative DOT approval for the service, and is eyeing a March 2009 debut.

But other US-China services could be in the cards. Steenland says there are "clearly a class of cities in China that one can fly to without specific slot authorization", such as is required for new service to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

While Northwest is not making predictions on serving secondary cities in China, "were it to happen, I think the airline to do it" would be Northwest because of the carrier’s Tokyo Narita hub, and its ability to aggregate traffic there, says Steenland.

Meanwhile, the carrier has taken two Boeing 747-200s out of dedicated freighter service as it grapples with reliability issues in its freighter business. The two aircraft will be used as spares, as part of a larger plan at the US major to enhance performance. This includes the September opening of a line maintenance hangar in Anchorage for freighters.

"We are looking at and evaluating alternative freighter solutions, whether that’s other new freighters, or used freighters, we don’t know yet," says Northwest executive VP-strategy, international Neal Cohen.