Four years after roll-out

The date was July 8, 2007, or 7-8-07.

The skies were bright and so were the Boeing Co.’s hopes for its new 787 jet, which it rolled out that day in Everett. With its promised fuel efficiency and passenger comforts, the Dreamliner already had accumulated 677 orders. And Boeing, using its world

wide supply chain, had planned to build 10 787s monthly after handing over the first in May 2008 to Japan’s All Nippon Airways.

Inside Boeing’s Everett factory, executives from Boeing’s suppliers as well as its airline customers lingered, waiting for their chance to catch a glimpse of the new Dreamliner.

Today — four years later after several well-chronicled delays — Boeing’s customers are still waiting for their jets to be delivered. Despite the setbacks, however, demand for Dreamliner remains strong, with 827 unfilled orders. And Boeing looks poised to deliver the first 787 in August or September.

Boeing’s fleet of test planes, which first flew in December 2009, have logged more than 4,248 hours in the air and have few tests remaining. This week, Boeing has teamed up with All Nippon Airways, the launch customer for the 787, to fly the Dreamliner in Japan. The 787 was flown as it will be in commercial service. The flights were set to wrap up late Thursday, July 7, with the Dreamliner returning to the Puget Sound area Saturday, July 9.

Four years after Boeing rolled out its 787, the major question about the Dreamliner isn’t if it will be delivered this year, but rather how many will be delivered this year and next. Boeing still plans to increase production to 10 jets monthly, in 2013.

Earlier this year, Boeing officials said the company could deliver as many as 20 787s to customers by year’s end. But analysts’ skepticism of that figure seems to be growing.

Bernstein Research recently predicted eight 787 deliveries this year while Buckingham Research’s estimate was even lower at seven. Analyst Scott Hamilton, with Issaquah-based Leeham Co., suggested on his blog that those 787 delivery targets could still be high.

Some airlines with early delivery dates have said they’ll get their 787s later than expected. For example, an executive with Ethiopian Airlines told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that the carrier won’t see its first Dreamliner until March, though it had expected delivery this December.

Air India, however, will get at least one 787 by year’s end, according to The Times of India. The Dreamliner is set to visit Delhi, India, next week. Air India has 27 787s on order.

The other major question surrounding the Dreamliner, four years after its rollout, is when will the jet be profitable. In May, Boeing’s chief executive Jim McNerney admitted that 787 delays had cost the company “billions upon billions.” But Boeing won’t reveal when the 787 will make a profit until the company delivers its first Dreamliner.

Boeing likely will give more details about the Dreamliner program when it reports its quarterly earnings later this month. The date of the earnings report hasn’t been announced.

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