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Boeing Co. is at risk of missing its 2014 delivery target for the 787 Dreamliner, the model plagued by development delays, as it waits on luxury seats that are as costly as a Ferrari and as complex to build as a small car.
Zodiac Aerospace’s engineers are struggling to meet demand for the customized berths, and a strike at a Texas factory also slowed output, Chief Executive Officer Olivier Guy Zarrouati said on a conference call. Zodiac’s woes stalled the planned delivery of American Airlines’ first 787s this month, he said.
Meeting the 110-delivery goal would show Boeing’s progress in resolving the production snags on the world’s first jetliner made chiefly of composite materials. Boeing entered December needing to hand over 14 more 787s, and will keep its delivery center near Seattle open during the Christmas-New Year’s holiday period to handle an anticipated late-month rush.
“Our guidance has not changed for 110 deliveries,” Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman, said today in a telephone interview.
Getting the premium seats on time from the manufacturer is crucial for Chicago-based Boeing because the modules can require extensive rewiring, ductwork changes and reinforced cabin floors. Seats that arrive out of sequence may also have to be disassembled to fit through the doors.
Boeing hasn’t reported any new factory issues involving the technology 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 is also behind schedule on deliveries of luxury seats ordered for Airbus Group NV’s A350 jet, CEO Zarrouati said on the conference call after the Plaisir, France-based company reported earnings. He blamed engineering teams stressed by heavy workloads as airlines seek to put their own stamp on the angled, lie-flat seats in an effort to attract business travelers.
Premium seats can cost airlines more than $200,000 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 in a phone interview. “These are Ferraris versus Fiats.”
Mary Anne Greczyn, an Airbus spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment about the seats.
American Airlines Group Inc., the world’s largest carrier, now expects to receive its initial 787 during 2015’s first quarter instead of 2014, said Matt Miller, a spokesman. The airline also must secure Federal Aviation Administration approval for configuration of the patented lie-flat seats on the 787.
“It’s not uncommon for this type of thing to happen,” Matt Miller, an American spokesman, 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. That’s one of those many things.”
–With assistance from Andrea Rothman in Toulouse, Christiana Sciaudone in Sao Paulo and Michael Sasso in Atlanta.
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