Possible 787 update Boeing earnings report could bring Dreamliner answers

The first South Carolina-built 787 returned from Texas in June with its new red, white and gold Air India paint scheme. The plane has yet to be delivered to the South Asian national carrier.

Boeing will report its second-quarter earnings today, and as much as any financial figure, investors will be anxious to know the latest on the 787 Dreamliner.

The much-hyped, high-tech composite jet, assembled in Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, has been plagued by delays for years, and the program has made only halting progress since the first 787 was handed over last September.

Boeing has delivered just 15 of the more than 850 that airlines have ordered — slower than the expected pace — and finished or nearly finished planes line the airframer’s campuses in South Carolina and Washington.

Meanwhile, problems with the plane, most recently involving models equipped with Rolls-Royce engines, have attracted at least as much attention as its famous fuel savings.

Everyone wants to know if the program is on track, and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney could offer some insight during this morning’s conference call with investment analysts and reporters. But don’t expect all the answers, said Seattle-area aerospace industry analyst Scott Hamilton.

“One thing that I’ve learned about Boeing over the years … particularly as it relates to the 787, when they got too specific, they tended to disappoint,” Hamilton said. “They’ve learned to talk in wonderful ambiguities.”

The biggest question locally is when Boeing South Carolina will deliver its first plane to Air India.

The South Asian airline was supposed to have taken at least three 787s by now, including the first assembled in North Charleston. But the Indian government still has to approve the final payment, so those deliveries have been postponed indefinitely.

The Indian aviation minister most recently predicted that the Indian government would take up the matter this week or next. A report out of India on Tuesday, citing “official sources,” said a group of ministers might take up the compensation issue as early as today.

For weeks now, three finished 787s, one made here and two flown in from Everett, have remained parked on the local campus flight line. They sit next to the second S.C.-built 787 that rolled out 31/2weeks ago but must undergo test flights and painting before it can be delivered to Air India.

Boeing has deferred questions about the Air India deliveries to the carrier, which has not responded to the most recent Post and Courier inquiries.

“It being India, anything can happen, of course, but it does appear that those should be getting ready for delivery very soon,” Hamilton said.

McNerney also is likely to face questions about the recent grounding of five of launch customer All Nippon Airways’ 787s because of a gear box problem in their Rolls-Royce engines, and about the Dreamliner production ramp-up.

Boeing is now making 3.5 Dreamliners per month, but by the end of this year the company expects to make five 787s every month between its two assembly factories. The goal to make 10 per month by the end of next year, but Hamilton said he doesn’t know one Wall Street analyst who believes that will happen before 2014.

Dreamliner turbulence and defense industry uncertainty aside, the overall report is expected to be strong, as Boeing has been delivering and attracting more orders for its popular 737 and 777 programs.