None of the early problems Boeing Co encountered with suppliers for its new 787 Dreamliner jet has shaken its confidence that it will smooth out production kinks and deliver the plane on schedule, the head of the program said.
"We've had challenges. You always have challenges when you have a program this complicated going together in what is really kind of record time," Mike Bair told reporters at a briefing on Friday, two days before the first 787 was scheduled to be unveiled.
"It's stuff we know what to do with," Bair said. "We are expediting a lot of parts right now, and we're going to make sure we get the production system running the way it needs to run."
The 787 that will be displayed today still has about 1,000 temporary fasteners that must be replaced with permanent ones, and machinists will have to spend several more weeks installing and testing electrical wiring and other systems before the plane is ready to fly, Bair said.
Flight testing on the midsize, long-haul plane is expected to begin late next month or September, he said.
"We don't schedule first flights," Bair said. "The airplane flies when it's ready. To put a firm date on the calendar might make you do something you don't want to do."
The 787, Boeing's first all-new plane since airlines started flying the 777 in 1995, is scheduled to enter commercial service next May, when Japan's All Nippon Airways Co takes delivery of the first of 50 Dreamliners it has ordered.
To date, Boeing has won 642 orders for the 787. Factoring in non-binding commitments, delivery positions are filled through 2015, two years after rival Airbus SAS expects to roll out its competing A350 XWB.
In addition, Qantas Airways announced on Friday that it would buy 20 more 787s and convert purchase rights for 20 planes into options. The deal, which has not been finalized, would boost the Australian carrier's existing order to 85 787s -- 65 firm orders and 20 options.
The 787 will be the world's first commercial jetliner made mostly of carbon-fiber composites, which are lighter and sturdier than aluminum. Boeing has said that and other technological advances will make the 787 more fuel-efficient and cheaper to maintain.
Bair said Boeing is not worried it will run into the types of delays that have plagued Airbus' A380 superjumbo jet because it comes down to wiring.
He estimated that the A380 has some 563km of wiring -- the main source of production problems that forced about two years of delays, slashing billions off its profit forecast for the coming years.
"We're not going to have that problem," Bair said, noting that the 787 only has about 96.6km of wiring. The A380 is scheduled to enter commercial service in October.
Geoff Dixon, Qantas' chief executive, and officials from several other 787 customers told the briefing they chose the Dreamliner largely because it will lower their fuel and maintenance costs while also improving passenger comfort.
Dixon noted that Qantas is also a customer for Airbus' A380, and said he thinks both the superjumbo and the smaller 787s will be valuable additions to the airline's fleet.