Boeing's 787 Still Stuck On The Ground

June 24, 2009

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Boeing delayed its new 787 Dreamliner for the fifth time on Tuesday, just a week before its first test flight, saying it needs to strengthen the side panels near where the wing joins the fuselage.

The plane was set to fly by next Tuesday, according to the latest schedule -- almost two years after the first target in the summer of 2007. No new date has been set.

Boeing has been struggling with a range of supply, manufacturing and design problems, made worse by a two-month strike at its Seattle-area plants last year.

The following events show the slow and bumpy progress of the new, carbon composite aircraft, which is key to Boeing's financial success.

2002 - Boeing drops its "Sonic Cruiser" concept, responding to airlines' calls for better fuel efficiency rather than extra speed.

June 2003 - dubs its new, carbon-composite plane the "Dreamliner."

Dec 2003 - approves an initial version of the plane with the temporary name 7E7, the E standing for "efficiency".

April 2004 - officially launches the plane as Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA) orders 50.

Dec 2004 - ends 2004 with 56 orders for the new plane, fewer than it had expected.

Jan 2005 - gives plane official designation 787.

Dec 2005 - ends year with 232 orders for 787s, for a running total of 288.

July 2006 - Popularity of 787 design forces Airbus to go back to drawing board on its competing A350, relaunching it as the A350 XWB (extra wide body).

Dec 2006 - ends year with 160 orders for 787s, for a running total of 448.

Jan 2007 - unconfirmed talk of some 787 suppliers falling behind schedule sends Boeing shares lower. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney says plane is on target for first test flight around end of August 2007 and first delivery May 2008.

May 2007 - starts to put together first 787 in Everett, Washington.

June 2007 - reports surface at Paris Air Show that 787 is up to four months late. Boeing says first test flight may slip to September 2007, while still on schedule for first delivery in May 2008.

July 8, 2007 - gleaming shell of first 787 rolled out in front of 15,000 ecstatic employees and customers at Everett.

July 25, 2007 - Boeing shares hit all-time high of USD$107.80, boosted by strong 787 orders. Company admits plane is running slightly behind in certain areas but holds to schedule.

Sept 2007 - Boeing puts back first test flight by about three months because of a shortage of bolts and problems with flight control software. Shifts flight target to mid-November to mid-December 2007; keeps May 2008 delivery target.

Oct 2007 - announces longer delay, due to continued production problems, pushing first test flight to end-March 2008 and putting back first delivery by about six months to late November or December 2008.

Oct 2007 - 787 programme head Mike Bair replaced by Pat Shanahan from Boeing's defence unit

Dec 2007 - Boeing says 787 is sticking to revised schedule; ends year with 369 orders for the plane in 2007, for a running total of 817.

Jan 2008 - after two weeks of rumours, Boeing announces further three-month delay due to problems with unnamed suppliers and slow assembly progress at Everett plant. Pushes back test flight to end-June 2008 and first delivery to early 2009, making plane about nine months behind original schedule.

March 2008 - company admits it had to redesign centre wing box to make it stronger.

April 2008 - announces third major delay due to continuing problems with unfinished work from suppliers. Sets first test flight for the fourth quarter of 2008 and first delivery for the third quarter of 2009, about 15 months behind the original schedule.

June 2008 - Boeing completes "power-on" testing on first 787, bringing the plane's electrical systems to life. It is the first public milestone the company has hit on the programme.

August 2008 - first cancellation of a 787 order, by Azerbaijan Airlines.

Sept 6, 2008 - Boeing's assembly workers go on strike over contract terms, shutting down Boeing's Seattle-area plants. They return to work in early November after 58 days out.

Nov 4, 2008 - Boeing says first flight delayed by strike, will not happen until 2009.

Dec 11, 2008 - Boeing announces fourth major delay, due to the strike and continuing fastener problems. Says first flight now set for second quarter of 2009 and first delivery in first quarter of 2010, making the plane about two years late.

Dec 31, 2008 - Boeing ends year with 93 orders for 787s, making a running total of 910.

Jan 2009 - Russia's S7 becomes first major airline to cancel orders for the 787, walking away from a deal to buy 15 of the planes worth USD$2.4 billion. More cancellations follow.

June - Boeing reports 59 total cancellations for 787s, with net orders for 866 of the planes.

June 23, 2009 - announces fifth delay due to side panel issue, says new dates for first flight and first delivery will be set in "several weeks," when problem is resolved.