NEW YORK (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) on Wednesday pushed back the first test flight of its new 787 Dreamliner to a range of mid-November to mid-December, about three months later than originally planned, as it struggles with uncompleted work by suppliers, delays in programming the flight control software and a shortage of bolts.
The new date truncates Boeing’s already shortened test flight schedule but will not delay first delivery of the plane in May next year and does not affect financial forecasts, the company said.
The announcement of the new target date, which had been widely expected after media reports over the weekend, sent Boeing shares lower, but they later recovered to trade down less than 1 percent by midday.
The plane maker is struggling with unfinished work on components already shipped to its Everett, Washington, plant, and is taking longer than expected to get the Honeywell International Inc (HON.N) flight software operating, said Scott Carson, chief executive of Boeing’s commercial plane unit, on a conference call on Wednesday.
A shortage of permanent bolts made by Alcoa Inc (AA.N) — known as fasteners — is also contributing to the delay, said Mike Bair, the head of the 787 program.
Boeing said it still intends to deliver the first 787 on schedule next May. Carson said that even if first deliveries were pushed back by one to three months, the financial effect would be “minimal.”
He declined to discuss the details of contracts with customers, but it is standard in the industry for a plane maker to pay penalties to customers when planes are delayed or don’t meet performance guarantees.
The company unveiled the shell of the new, carbon-composite plane in early July amid a fanfare of publicity but has been working round the clock since then to remove and replace a number of temporary fasteners and to install the plane’s power and electronics.
A delay to the first test flight does not necessarily mean delays to actual production and delivery of the plane, but Bair said it does erode the time Boeing has to “deal with anything big” that arises from the test flight program.
Airlines and Wall Street analysts are watching Boeing closely for delays after European rival Airbus suffered embarrassing and costly delays on its new A380 superjumbo.
If the 787 flew in mid-November, it would leave only about six months for Boeing to complete the flight test program. The company took 11 months to conduct flight tests on the 777, its last new commercial jetliner.
Boeing has never pinned down an exact date for the first test flight, saying the plane would fly when it was ready, but it did originally set August as a broad target, later moving that to late September.
Boeing has 706 firm orders for the plane from 48 airlines and leasing companies, making it the company’s most successful plane launch to date, with a backlog worth more than $100 billion.
Boeing shares were down 16 cents at $95.76 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reporting by Bill Rigby