Boeing chief: 787 still on schedule

CHICAGO (AP) - Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner remains on schedule for its first test flight next summer and for delivery to airlines in 2008 despite the ongoing challenge to make it lighter, the new head of the company's commercial airplanes unit said Wednesday.

Scott Carson told an investment conference in New York that Boeing has 435 firm orders for the new jet from 35 customers along with another 21 nonbinding commitments. The continuing demand makes it "the very strongest product launch in the history of this industry," he maintained.

Boeing officials have said since earlier this fall that they need to trim the 787's weight significantly from parts scattered throughout the entire plane, in some cases switching from aluminum to titanium, in order to meet its promises for greater fuel efficiency.

Carson, the unit's sales chief until September when Alan Mulally left to become CEO of Ford Motor Co., said the first six 787s, all test aircraft, will be above weight specifications. All the company's energies are focused on the seventh and a plan is in place to get the weight off, he said.

Boeing shares rose 79 cents to $91.52 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, just off last month's all-time high of $92.05.

Sizzling demand for the 787 coupled with lengthy delays involving Airbus' planned A380 superjumbo have enabled Boeing to seize momentum and close the gap on Airbus in the commercial airplane market. But Carson, making his first formal presentation to Wall Street, expects the competition to remain intense and said his company must fight complacency with things going so well.

"People say, 'Well, you're in a favorite position to Airbus because they're struggling,"' he said. "I say Airbus emerges from this stronger than they've ever been in, and we better be ready for it."

Asked when the largest U.S. carriers are likely to order new planes again, Carson said he expects UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. to be ready in late 2007 or 2008.
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