Boeing is at risk of missing its 2014 delivery target for the 787 Dreamliner, the jet plagued by development delays, as it awaits luxury seats that are as costly as a Ferrari and as complex to build as a small car.
Engineers at France's Zodiac Aerospace are struggling to meet demand for the custom berths, and a Texas strike also slowed output, Chief Executive Officer Olivier Guy Zarrouati said last week. Those woes stalled a handover of American Airlines' first 787s this month, he said.
Boeing is trying to show it has fixed the production snags on the first jetliner made chiefly of composite materials. The Chicago-based company needs 14 December deliveries, one shy of its monthly record, to meet its annual forecast for 110, and will keep its delivery centre near Seattle open during the year- end holidays to handle an anticipated late-month rush.
"Our guidance has not changed for 110 deliveries," Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman, said.
Getting the premium, lie-flat seats on time from manufacturers is crucial for Boeing because they can require extensive rewiring, ductwork changes and reinforced cabin floors. Units arriving out of sequence may also have to be disassembled to fit through the doors.
Boeing hasn't reported any new factory issues on the 787, like the hairline cracking that crimped deliveries earlier this year. The 787's commercial debut came more than three years behind schedule after multiple development delays, and regulators temporarily grounded the global fleet in 2013 after its lithium-ion batteries smoldered.
Zodiac CEO Zarrouati blamed the delays on a monthlong strike in Gainesville, Texas, that ended October 25 and engineering teams stressed by heavy workloads as airlines seek to put their stamp on the angled, lie-flat seats in an effort to attract business travellers.
The Plaisir, France-based seatmaker is working through its backlog of delayed shipments and should be back on schedule by mid-2015, Zarrouati said. "We're still late with some deliveries and we're still in a scenario where we are recovering, getting back to normal," he said.
Premium seats can cost airlines more than $US200,000 ($A243,000) each, because expensive finishes and development costs for complex motors are spread over relatively few units, said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant based in Port Washington, New York.
"It's not like you're churning out tens of thousands of coach 777 seats," Mann said. "These are Ferraris versus Fiats."
The Dreamliner seats, similar to those American designed for its updated Boeing 777-200, allow for separate adjustments for the seat back and head and leg rests. Position options on the 777-200 models include a zero-gravity, Z-shaped lounge position the airline says reduces pressure points.
American Airlines now expects to receive its initial 787 during 2015's first quarter instead of 2014, said Matt Miller, a spokesman. The world's largest airline also needs US Federal Aviation Administration approval to use the patented lie-flat seats on the 787.
"It's not uncommon for this type of thing to happen," Miller said in a phone interview. "The seats being custom- designed and custom-built did add a layer of complexity to the process, but there are a number of different things that have to be coordinated before we can introduce a new plane."