Dreamliner to miss Dubai Airshow

Boeing said it is in a "boring" phase of its delayed 787 Dreamliner programme and would not have the plane ready in time to showcase at the Dubai Airshow. The aeroplane, which has an all-composite fuselage, is one of the fastest-selling aircraft on record, with more than US$15 billion (Dh55.08bn) in orders from Gulf airlines alone. But it is now two-and-a-half years late in its delivery schedule.

Boeing plans to stage the first flight of the Dreamliner by the end of this year, but officials said the aeroplane would not be present at the air show, which begins on November 15. "We're boring here; we want to get this aeroplane in service, and so we have backed away from prioritising marketing events," said Samir Belyamani, the regional director of product marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We need to get the flight test accomplished."

Analysts say Boeing now appears to have put behind it early problems relating to its supply-chain partners and a recent design flaw that required reinforcing a side-of-body section. "The side-of-body modification is probably the last major hurdle for Boeing to deal with," said Saj Ahmad, the editor of FleetBuzz Editorial.com. With technological advances that improve both operating performance and the passenger experience, the Dreamliner is one of the fastest-selling aeroplanes in history. Orders peaked at more than 900, but as the global recession has hammered the global airline industry, some airlines have scaled back and cancelled about 70 orders. "When you look at the size of backlog, the cancellations have been pretty small, and down to airlines' financial predicament, not to delays," Mr Ahmad said.

Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air have retained their collective 81 orders for the 787 as they continue an aggressive expansion to capitalise on their location by catering to traffic between Europe and Asia. Boeing was racing to complete its first test flight by the close of the Paris Air Show in June. It later disclosed it had detected structural flaws in a side section of the fuselage and postponed the key development hurdle until later this year.

Organisers of the Dubai Airshow, the third-largest air show in the world, expressed the hope that the aeroplane would be ready in time for the event. "It would be really exciting - anything new at an air show always creates some buzz," Alison Weller, the director of F&E Aerospace, the air show organiser, said last month. But the Dreamliner was moving from the marketing stage to the delivery stage, Mr Belyamani said last week. "There is always talk about whether we could get it at this air show or another. But this is not the priority."

Boeing had originally planned to hand over its first aircraft to ANA of Japan last spring. That has now been pushed to the fourth quarter of next year, after 12 months of flight testing. Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, criticised the delays this summer, threatening to "walk away" from the airline's 30-aircraft order. "We at Qatar Airways have some serious issues with Boeing, and if they do not play ball with us they will be in for a very, very serious surprise if we do not settle the issues on the 787," Mr al Baker said.

Boeing not only designed a completely new aeroplane but also tried to refashion the entire production process. Its plant in Everett, Washington, performs only final assembly of the aircraft, with suppliers in the US, Japan, Italy and elsewhere doing the high-tech manufacturing of components. This reliance on suppliers promised to cut costs and speed up the manufacturing process, but it initially resulted in contractor errors that set the programme back by many months.

Then, in June, Boeing detected a "delamination", or a small void, on the composite fuselage during static testing, when the aircraft is subjected to stress tests including bending of the wings. The problem was invisible to the naked eye but was detected by ultrasound testing. Boeing said other minor problems could be discovered during the flight test programme, while Mr Ahmad said Boeing's suppliers would be further put to the test when the company ramped up production to catch up with its delivery schedule.

"I would like to think Boeing has turned a corner with the 787, but the real litmus test to the supply chain will be when it increases production," he said. @Email:igale@thenational.ae


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