With the clock ticking toward a December 31 deadline, Boeing Co executives on Friday said the company is on schedule for the first test flight of its long-delayed and highly anticipated 787 Dreamliner.
Speaking on the sidelines of a groundbreaking in North Charleston, South Carolina, for Boeing's second Dreamliner final assembly site, two local Boeing executives said first flight is in sight.
Our plan is to fly by the end of the year and to deliver by the end of next year, said Marco Cavazzoni, general manager of final assembly and delivery at Boeing Charleston.
Tim Coyle, vice president of the Charleston site, agreed, saying that once static tests on the plane were complete, the 787 would be poised for its first test flight within weeks.
The 787 is two years behind its original schedule, due to a series of production setbacks and a strike last year. The company has said it would fly the plane in the fourth quarter of 2009 but has not set a date. Some speculation now centers on December 22.
Boeing delayed a scheduled test flight earlier this year to reinforce a side-of-body section. The company said last week that it has made the repair on the first plane.
The Dreamliner boasts a revolutionary composite design that weighs less and is more fuel efficient that traditional aircraft. Boeing has 840 orders on the books, according to company data.
Boeing last month selected South Carolina as the site of its second 787 Dreamliner final assembly plant as it plans to increase production of the plane away from its traditional base in the Seattle area.
Boeing intends to finish construction of the assembly site by mid-2011 and complete three planes per month, Coyle said.
Boeing already owns a plant in Charleston that makes parts of the 787 fuselage. Boeing has said the Puget Sound area will remain the headquarters of its commercial planes.
The move to South Carolina, which had been expected for some time, is a blow for the Puget Sound economy, where Boeing is the major employer, labor leaders have said. But it is a major economic boon to South Carolina, where the jobless rate was 12.1 percent in October.
Boeing said the new assembly site would create about 1,000 direct manufacturing and flight line positions at Boeing Charleston. The company said that over time it would add several thousand jobs to the region by creating management, engineering and other support positions.
(Writing by Kyle Peterson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)