Design changes to part of the wing of Boeing's new 787 jetliner might further delay its first flight, according to the head of an aircraft...

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Design changes to part of the wing of Boeing’s new 787 jetliner might further delay its first flight, according to the head of an aircraft leasing company that has ordered 74 of the planes.

Boeing’s shares sank $2.25, almost 3 percent, to $74.28 in afternoon trading.

Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman of International Lease Finance Corp., a Los Angeles subsidiary of American International Group, told investors at a JPMorgan conference Tuesday that he expects the first 787 flight won’t occur until the fall, and that the first delivery will be postponed to the end of the third quarter of 2009.

Udvar-Hazy said he believes structural design changes to the 787’s center wing box, which will then require retrofits of the first several planes produced, are behind the potential delay. The center wing box is a key piece that connects the jetliner’s wing to the fuselage and holds fuel.

“While we respect Hazy and he is a valued customer, he was sharing what is his opinion,” Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said today in an e-mail.

Boeing has said its goal is to send the 787 on its first flight by the end of June, and deliver the first plane to All Nippon Airways in early 2009.

However, after announcing a third major delay in the 787 program in January, Boeing said it would study those goals.

“We are working on completing our assessment so we can give our customers new delivery schedules. We will share the details of all of this when we are ready,” Leach said.

Leach did not directly respond to Udvar-Hazy’s comments about the center wing box redesign, saying only that “it is normal during the development of a new airplane to discover the need for design enhancements,” and that design changes are not the only item affecting a possible change in schedule.

The 787 will be the first large commercial airplane made mostly of carbon-fiber composites, which are lighter and more durable than the metals used in most planes today. Boeing has said it will save fuel and be cheaper to maintain than comparable planes flying today.