Boeing 787 celebration starts with hand delivery

Features Reuters

By Tim Hepher

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SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co workers limbered up for a ceremony to hand-deliver -- literally -- the company's first 787 Dreamliner to All Nippon Airways on Monday as company shares rose more than 3 percent on the milestone.

The 500 Seattle workers were set to pull the carbon-composite plane about 100 yards to its Japanese buyers at a podium outside the planemaker's mammoth Everett, Washington, production plant in a celebration capping nearly a decade of development of the world's most advanced jetliner.

The hand-delivery is a vivid demonstration of the airplane's lightweight structure, which promises 20 percent fuel savings for airlines, but also of the snail's pace of production following numerous delays.

Investors are now waiting to see whether Boeing can pull a rabbit out a hat and meet its production goals after three years of delays and seven postponements.

"Now is the time for Boeing looking forwards and not backward, concentrate on the manufacturing process and satisfy the customer," said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at London brokerage BGC Partners. "Once they do that the rest will fall into place."

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Boeing shares, were up 3.3 percent at $61.49 on Monday morning on the New York Stock Exchange. (Graphic on Dreamliner timeline: http://r.reuters.com/hyx83s )

Dozens of aircraft are parked around the site in various stages of readiness, some with billowing plastic covers over their cockpits and engines or with weight-balancing yellow blocks hanging off the wings where the engines would be.

BOWING IN RESPECT

Hundreds of Boeing workers were taught on the eve of the ceremony how to bow in unison as a mark of respect for ANA President Shinichiro Ito whose company formally took control of the first of its 55 Dreamliners on Sunday.

ANA expressed confidence in Boeing's ability to build the rest of its fleet on time, including 12 airplanes due by end-March and eight in the following 12 months. But after seven delays, analysts say Boeing must work hard to prevent further slippage.

"Given the stops and starts and problems it is natural for investors to have some concerns about achievability but the company seems confident."

A Boeing official said production problems at a key Italian supplier were no longer seen as a "pacing item," or potential source of bottlenecks that define how quickly it can raise 787 production from the current rate of about two aircraft a month.

The company plans to make a decision on when to go to the next step "soon," he said, adding it could proceed in increments of one aircraft or even half an aircraft a month.

Boeing's Everett plant contains four 787s in one bay of its giant assembly hall, with other 787s parked in an area set aside for completion work. Each aircraft currently stays for 10 days at each point on the line, but this will have to be accelerated as production increases.

The main line is designed to rise to seven aircraft a month. A second temporary "surge" line is being readied to tackle three aircraft a month when necessary and a planned facility at North Charleston, South Carolina, will assemble three a month.

The surge line will partly allow Boeing to smooth out alterations of production flow between two models of aircraft currently on sale.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher in Seattle, editing by Matthew Lewis)