, NEW YORK, October 1 – US plane maker Boeing raised doubts Tuesday 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 told AFP on Tuesday.
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.
"Alas I can’t tell you when this strike is going to end," he said.
Boeing’s 27,000 machinists, who represent 16 percent 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 US aerospace giant more than 100 million dollars per day, analysts say.
Boeing has staked its future on the Dreamliner, which is the US 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.
The Asia-Pacific region is expected to become the biggest aviation market in the world within about a decade, a senior Boeing official said earlier Tuesday in Japan, where Japanese carriers buy almost exclusively from Boeing.
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.
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 in Washington state had been affected by the strike — although the company announced that the Everett plant on Saturday completed a high-pressure test known as "high blow," a key test prior to first flight.
The Dreamliner, Boeing’s first new model in over a decade, takes advantage of the huge advances made in aviation technology in the past decade, and was designed using high-tech plastic composites instead of aluminum.