Boeing Co on Wednesday pushed back first deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner by at least six months as it struggles to assemble the new lightweight, carbon-composite plane.

The delay is an embarrassing setback for Boeing, which has for months insisted it would meet its delivery timetable, and mirrors delays suffered by rival Airbus on its A380 superjumbo.

Boeing, which has orders for more than 700 of the 787 planes from 48 airlines and leasing companies, said the delay would not affect earnings and it kept its financial forecast for this year and next unchanged.

Boeing shares fell $3.10, or 3.1 percent, to $98.35 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of key suppliers like Spirit Aerosystems Holdings Inc and Rockwell Collins Inc also fell.

The Chicago-based company said 787 deliveries are slated to begin in late November or December 2008, versus an original target of May 2008.

The delay is a blow to Japan's All Nippon Airways Co, the first 787 customer, which was hoping to ferry passengers to next summer's Beijing Olympic Games in the initial planes of its planned 50-strong 787 fleet.


Boeing blamed the delivery delay on continuing problems with flight control software, being produced by Honeywell International Inc, and integrating other systems on the plane, which it did not detail.

It said it now expects the first test flight of the 787 to take place around the end of the first quarter next year, suggesting it could be as late as March or even April 2008.

That is a drastic extension to its original plan to start airborne tests in August 2007. In early September, Boeing scheduled the first test flight for mid-November to mid-December as it wrestled with software problems and a shortage of bolts.

Boeing said the new schedule restores some margin to deal with unexpected problems that might appear during flight testing. If Boeing sticks to its new schedule, it could have eight months to complete flight testing, as opposed to six months on its previous estimate. Flight testing on Boeing's last new airliner, the 777, took 11 months.

We deeply regret the impact these delays will have on our customers, and we are committed to working with them to minimize any disruption to their plans, said Scott Carson, chief executive of Boeing's commercial airplanes unit, in a statement.

Boeing did not say whether it would have to pay any penalties or other compensation to customers, which is standard in the industry when a plane's delivery is delayed.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby, editing by Brian Moss)