Ted S. Warren  /  AP
A Boeing Co. 787 jetliner taxis into position as a crowd of Boeing employees looks on. The director of Boeing's 787 program said Thursday the first delivery of the plane may slip to early 2011.
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updated 7/15/2010 3:26:12 PM ET 2010-07-15T19:26:12

The first delivery of Boeing's new 787 jetliner may slip into early 2011 because of inspections and instrument changes on the flight test aircraft, the head of the program said Thursday.

Scott Fancher, general manager of the program for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told reporters in a teleconference that Boeing still intends to deliver its first 787 to Japan's ANA by the end of the year. He said that "as a cautionary note," Boeing is warning that the delivery might be extended a few weeks into 2011.

If so, it would be another in a long series of delays on the 787 program, many due to problems with components built by suppliers around the globe that ship huge sections of the plane to be assembled at Boeing's Everett, Wash., plant. Boeing, which has orders for 863 of the twin-aisle jets, originally planned to deliver the first 787 in 2008.

Fancher said the planned changes in data-gathering instrumentation on the flight test planes took longer than expected. That and the need for additional inspections "stacked up" and reduced the time margin built into the testing schedule. He said Boeing has a "laser focus" on completing the tests and getting the first plane delivered in December.

Boeing has not specified when it expected the 787 testing program to end. While it aims for the first deliveries at the end of the year, testing on some components will continue beyond that.

Boeing's 787 customers are aware of the possible delay. "We're constantly in communication with our customers on where we are in flight tests and being as transparent as we can," Fancher said.

For the second time this year, Boeing is asking 787 suppliers to hold up sending aircraft sections to Everett. The pause, expected toward the end of summer, is primarily due to airlines changing delivery schedules, but will allow suppliers to correct parts shortages and other supply chain problems, Fancher said. He declined to say how long the pause might last.

"It's just an opportunity to catch your breath a little bit, get the supply chain where it needs to be," Fancher said.

In late April, Boeing asked suppliers to hold back sections for 24 manufacturing days so they could complete needed work at their sites. That helped Boeing avoid catch-up work that would hamper final assembly.

Boeing recently halted flight tests on the first 787s after finding some of them had improperly installed parts in the horizontal stabilizer, a smaller wing on the aircraft's tail. The problem has been corrected on all five flight-test planes now flying, and the fix is going into production jets where necessary, Fancher said.

Boeing plans to fly a test 787 to next week's Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K. for its international debut.

Fancher stressed that the issues affecting the test schedule do not involve the design of the airplane and that Boeing is pleased with its performance. But "we've seen some inspections with quality issues that have taken longer than planned," he said, including the horizontal stabilizer inspections.

The changes in the extensive sensors and data-gathering instruments are needed as the planes progress to different phases of tests and don't involve standard flight instruments or systems aboard planes, Fancher said.

He declined to go into detail about the reasons for the possible delay or to give an exact time, other than it would be weeks rather than months.

Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group said the possible delay is no surprise.

"It was inevitable. Yet again they set an aggressive schedule for us that they really couldn't meet," he said.

However, he said the delay is balanced by positive news for the 787 in recent weeks, including Qantas accelerating delivery of its first 787s into the first half of 2012. And Russia is reportedly pressing Boeing to deliver 787s to state-run Aeroflot in time for the 2014 Olympics.

"You're seeing all sorts of international endorsements, and signs of technical progress," Aboulafia said.

Fancher spoke shortly after Boeing released its 2010 Current Market Outlook, which forecasts that the global airline industry will need 30,900 new jets worth $3.6 trillion between now and 2029.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Boeing rolls out 787

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  1. News media tour the assembly line of the Boeing 787 in Everett, Wash. on Sunday, Sept. 25,. All Nippon Airways is the first customer to take delivery of the 787. (John Froschauer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A worker looks over the inside of a fuselage of a Boeing 787 at the assembly plant in Everett, Wash. on Sunday, Sept. 25. (John Froschauer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Boeing employees assemble Boeing 787 Dreamliners September 25, in Everett, Washington. Boeing delivered its long-awaited and delayed first 787 airliner to All Nippon Airways which it will celebrate before ANA flies the airliner to Japan September 27. (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Kang Kang of China Central TV sits in the reclining seat as the news media tour the second Boeing Co. 787 to be delivered to All Nippon Airways (ANA) at the assembly plant in Everett, Wash. on Sunday, Sept. 25 (John Froschauer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. News media tour the inside of the second Boeing Co. 787 to be delivered to All Nippon Airways (ANA) at the assembly plant in Everett, Wash. on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011. ANA is the first customer to take delivery of the 787. (John Froschauer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. An All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 Dreamliner arrives at Tokyo's Haneda airport as fire engines spray it with water during a test flight on July 3, 2011. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Boeing chief pilot Chuck Killberg, right, gives a tour of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to American Airlines' pilots Scott Alderink, second from right, Jim Dees, center left, and John Conrad at Dallas-Fort Worth International airport in July. American Airlines is buying at least 460 new planes over the next five years in the biggest single passenger jet order in history. The order will include the Boeing 787. (Lm Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Kent Craver, Boeing Co.'s regional director for passenger satisfaction and revenue, shows off the headroom in the passenger cabin of the first Boeing 787 with the interior installed at the production plant in Everett, Wash., in 2010. (Elaine Thompson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The super freighter Dreamlifter aircraft, carrying the mid-body fuselage for the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner, sits in the unloading area in Everett, Wash., in 2007. The tail of the modified 747-400 swings open for huge payloads that are unloaded using the largest cargo loader in the world. (Kevin P. Casey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet takes off at its long-waited first flight on Dec.15, 2009 at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Boeing 787 Chief Pilot Captain Mike Carriker exults after landing Boeing's long delayed new 787 at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., on December 15, 2009. (Paul Joseph Brown / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The front landing gear on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner lifts off the runway during taxi tests on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009, at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The largely composite airplane is scheduled for its maiden flight next week. (Joshua Trujillo / Seattlepi.com via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Boeing employees work on an aft fuselage for the 787 Dreamliner inside a North Charleston, S.C., facility in October 2009. Boeing plans to open a second assembly plant for its 787 in North Charleston, expanding beyond its longtime manufacturing base in Washington state. (Mic Smith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Boeing employees work inside the North Charleston, S.C., facility in October 2009. (Mic Smith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. International journalists and other visitors view a mock-up of the interior of the new Boeing 787 airplane on Saturday, July 7, 2007, at Boeing's Customer Experience Center in Renton, Wash. The airplane maker has promised that the interior of the new airplane will be much more comfortable than previous airplane models. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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