Boeing's dreams about to take flight

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Boeing's long delayed fuel-efficient super aircraft is finally ready to take to the skies.

The US aircraft maker said the 787 Dreamliner is to make its first flight this year with the first deliveries due to be made in the fourth quarter of 2010. The development of the new aircraft has been dogged by delays and is now two years behind schedule. The most recent setback came in June when the company found found structural weakness following a stress test at points where the plane's wings join the body

Yesterday, however, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said: "This new schedule provides us the time needed to complete the remaining work necessary to put the 787's game-changing capability in the hands of our customers. "The design details and implementation plan are nearly complete, and the team is preparing airplanes for modification and testing." Boeing will apply a "local fix" to the first 15 aircraft on the production line, while a new design will be incorporated for future aircraft. The new schedule for first flight provides the company with "wiggle room", should other problems arise. Boeing insisted that the project would be profitable long term, but it admitted that there was little chance of selling the first three test aircraft due to the "inordinate amount of rework and unique and extensive modifications" made to those aircraft.

As a result, the company will take a $2.5 billion one-off charge against its third quarter results. However, it does expect to be able to sell aircraft four, five and six. Boeing hopes to be making 10 787s a month by the end of 2013 and last month said it already had 850 orders. It received 13 new orders for 787s between April and June, but airlines had cancelled 41 others.

The 787 is a hugely-important project for Boeing as it struggles with Europe's Airbus for dominance of the global aircraft market.

News of the Dreamliner's first flight came as figures from the International Air Transport Association revealed that the annual fall in air traffic is slowing significantly. Airlines carried 11.3 per cent less cargo and 2.9 per cent fewer people in July than a year earlier, IATA said in its latest monthly reading of cross-border traffic. The figures represented an improvement from June, when the year-on-year declines were 16.5 per cent for cargo and 7.2 per cent for passengers.