After two years of delays, Boeing Co. says the long-anticipated first flight of its new 787 jetliner could come as early as Tuesday.
Boeing announced Thursday that its window for a first flight would open on Dec. 15 with the actual flight timing dependent on final internal reviews, taxi testing, Federal Aviation Administration documentation and the weather.
In order for the 787 to be cleared for takeoff, Mother Nature will need to provide good visibility, no standing water on the runway and gentle to no wind, said Yvonne Leach, spokeswoman for the 787 program.
The company also said it has completed "final gauntlet" testing on the 787 and verified the success of fixes it made to a structural problem.
Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, says two days of testing checked out all the airplane systems, such as avionics, hydraulics and electrical.
Boeing, based in Chicago, earlier reinforced weak points near the area where the wings attach to the fuselage, then conducted a so-called static test — essentially bending the wings — on the repairs.
Fancher says Boeing has completed its analysis of that static test and called it successful.
Boeing says the 787, made mostly of lightweight composite materials, will be more efficient, quieter and have lower emissions than other airplanes. The midsize plane also will have wider seats and aisles, and larger windows.
Depending on its configuration, the plane will hold as many as 330 passengers. First deliveries are now estimated to begin by the end of May.
The company has taken a new approach to building airplanes with the 787, relying on suppliers around the world to build huge sections of the plane. But that approach so far has proved problematic, with ill-fitting parts and other problems hampering production.
Boeing identified the most recent problems when it postponed the 787's first test flight and deliveries for a fifth time in June. The plane is more than two years behind schedule and repeated delays have cost the company money, credibility and sales.
Some airlines have been forced to cancel or postpone plans to buy new 787s, partly due to weak travel demand amid the global economic downturn. Yet the 787 remains Boeing's best-selling new plane to date.