Boeing South Carolina will finally turn over a 787 Dreamliner to Air India next week, a spokeswoman for the local plane-making plant said late Friday.
Candy Eslinger would not say which day the delivery would happen or which of the three completed Dreamliners on the North Charleston flight line would be delivered first.
“What I can tell you right now is that the Air India delivery team is here in South Carolina for the delivery that's scheduled for next week,” Eslinger said.
An Air India spokesman did not respond to an email seeking confirmation Friday, and hasn't responded to inquiries since early July. But if the South Asian national carrier actually takes its first 787 according to this latest timetable, it will end the summer's Dreamliner delivery saga.
Boeing has delivered 17 of the composite-bodied jets to three airlines since last year, but all have been from the airframer's Everett, Wash., complex, and none have been as delayed as the Air India jets.
Reached Friday evening, Scott Hamilton, of Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Co., likened the mercurial Air India delivery situation to a flight delayed so many times that passengers don't believe it's happening until the wheels leave the ground.
“And this is Air India,” he said. “Who knows what they're going to do. This is truly one of those Missouri Show-Me moments. ... I'll believe it when I see it.”
The delivery window announced Friday is seemingly the most reliable to date, but it is the history of delays that make people like Hamilton cautious.
Air India ordered 27 of the fuel-efficient, twin-aisle airplanes in 2005, but Boeing's technical issues and supply-chain hiccups led to more than three years of postponements. Then there were months of negotiations between Boeing and the cash-strapped airline over compensation owed for those delays.
They came to an agreement in June, the month Boeing South Carolina officials had said they would deliver their first 787. The Indian government, which owns Air India, had to approve the undisclosed compensation deal, and that didn't happen until August 3.
In the meantime, two Dreamliners assembled in Washington had flown to North Charleston and joined the first S.C.-built 787 on the flight line.
Boeing's top salesman for India suggested that a definitive delivery schedule would follow soon after the government approval, and said it would involve individual planes delivered in seven-to-10-day intervals. But there were only test flights and unconfirmed rumors of an imminent delivery before Friday's update.
By midday, one of the three planes had been rolled up next to the inside curve of the delivery center, and catering trucks were parked on the South Aviation Avenue side. Eslinger declined to comment on what happened inside the sleek gray building Friday.
“We have various activities happening on our site on any given day, and we typically don't release the details of any of the activities going on on our site,” she said.
Eslinger also did not offer any details regarding next week's event, so it's not clear if there will be the public celebration that had been expected for the first S.C.-assembled plane, or if it will be a more subdued handover of one of the Everett-built jets.
All the delays aside, the delivery will be yet another “first.” Even if the plane or planes delivered don't include the first S.C.-assembled plane, it will represent a milestone for Boeing, the South Asian airline and for the Charleston region.
The road to the first local Dreamliner delivery began in October 2009 when Boeing announced that it would build a final assembly plant in North Charleston, a nonunion counterbalance to Dreamliner headquarters in the Puget Sound.
That building opened in June of 2011, and Boeing workers have been putting together plane after plane ever since late summer.
Three, all for Air India, have rolled out so far, including the latest one last Sunday.
The second S.C.-built 787 suffered an engine failure on a pre-flight taxi test on July 28. While the National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation into why that particular GEnx-1B engine's drive shaft fractured, the affected plane was fitted with a new engine and is back on the flight line.
Next week's delivery to Air India would be another indication that Boeing and its customer airlines believe that fiery engine failure was an isolated incident.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.
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