Boeing Says Strike Might Delay 787 Test Flight

Boeing's 27,000 machinists, who represent 16% of the company's workforce, went on strike on September 6 after the collapse of three-year contract talks.

Boeing raised doubts on Sept. 30 that the first flight of its next-generation jet, the 787 Dreamliner, would take place as scheduled later this year because of a strike by machinists. "If the strike is going on, we can't try the 787 at the end of the year like we planned. We need the full team on board," Boeing spokesman Tim Healy said.

He refused to discuss the possibility of more delays to deliveries of the state-of-the-art aircraft, saying only that the company would assess the impact of the strike when it ended.

Boeing's 27,000 machinists, who represent 16% of the company's workforce, went on strike on September 6 after the collapse of three-year contract talks. The strike has forced Boeing to halt aircraft production and could be costing the company more than $100 million per day, analysts say.

A spokesman for the union leading the strike action, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), said the organization was in daily contact with a federal mediator but had no direct contact with Boeing management. He underlined that one of the assembly sites for the 787 in Everett, Wash. had been affected by the strike -- although the company announced that the Everett plant had completed a high-pressure test known as "high blow," a key test prior to first flight.

Boeing has staked its future on the Dreamliner, which is the U.S. firm's rival to the new Airbus A380 superjumbo. The first deliveries of the 787, initially planned for the first half of 2008, have been pushed back to the third quarter of 2009. Any further delays in the schedule would damage Boeing's reputation and risk antagonizing clients.

In Japan, for example, All Nippon Airways, the launch customer for the Dreamliner, said last week it expects to receive its first delivery of the airplane in August 2009, 15 months behind schedule. ANA, the country's second-largest carrier, said there had been no change to its order placed in 2004 for 50 Boeing 787s for about six billion dollars. It expects to receive about six of the planes every year until 2017, with an average delivery delay of two years.

Earlier this month Asia's largest carrier Japan Airlines said it planned to receive its first Dreamliner in October 2009 -- not last month as planned -- and that it plans to have all of the 35 units by March 2017 instead of the initial agreement of March 2014.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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