Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner will “definitely” be postponed a seventh time after a test jet caught fire during a flight last week, said Steven Udvar-Hazy, who was once the planemaker’s biggest customer.
“It’s a big setback for Boeing,” Udvar-Hazy said today of the Nov. 9 electrical fire that prompted an emergency landing and forced the company to suspend test flights since.
Speaking in an interview at an airline conference in Panama City, Udvar-Hazy didn’t say when the 787 might be ready to enter passenger service. Udvar-Hazy was Boeing’s biggest customer as founder and chief executive officer of International Lease Finance Corp., which has 74 Dreamliners on order. He retired from the company this year and started another leasing business, Air Lease Corp.
Boeing can’t comment on a potential delay until it has completed an investigation of the fire, which broke out in a power panel under the cabin floor of one of the test jets, said Lori Gunter, a spokeswoman at the Chicago-based company.
The 787 is the first composite-plastic airliner and uses an all-electric system to save on fuel. It’s running almost three years behind schedule, with the most recent target for delivery to the first customer in the first quarter of 2011.
Boeing rose $2.11, or 3.4 percent, to $64.61 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have fallen 8 percent since the day before the fire, after having gained 30 percent this year through Nov. 8.
“We strongly encourage long-term investors to take advantage of one-off opportunities such as these where the market is pre-disposed to assume the worst,” Carter Leake, an analyst with Davenport & Co. in Richmond, Virginia, wrote in a note to clients yesterday. “A delay in the program is very likely, but we believe Boeing is currently pricing in far more serious issues.”
The likelihood that the fire revealed a problem with the 787’s electrical system that would take longer than six months to fix is “much lower than the market is currently assuming,” Leake said.
Heidi Wood, a Morgan Stanley analyst in New York, said yesterday that Boeing may not be able to deliver the first plane until 2012, because the fire may prompt a redesign of software and hardware.
The Dreamliner was supposed to enter service in May 2008. With 847 advance orders, the 250-seat plane, which sells for $178 million at the average list price, is the company’s best- selling jet.
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