Boeing's crucial 787 Dreamliner program may face a third major delay, says a leading Wall Street analyst.

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A leading Wall Street analyst warned today of the likelihood of a third major delay in Boeing’s crucial 787 Dreamliner program, predicting that deliveries could slip out as much as a further six months.

In response, Boeing said it is still working on an ongoing reassessment of its schedule and won’t know the outcome of that until the end of this month.

Richard Safran, who covers Boeing for Goldman Sachs, cited unidentified industry sources for his report that first flight will be pushed out a further three months and first deliveries will slip even more — not starting until after September 2009.

The program is already nine or ten months late, and a further delay in delivery until September would push it out well beyond a year late.

Such a delay would be unprecedented in Boeing’s manufacturing history.

Boeing in January announced its most recent delay to the 787 program, pushing out first flight to June and saying it expected the first Dreamliner delivery to All Nippon Airways (ANA) in “early 2009.”

That delivery timetable was interpreted to mean sometime in the first three months. Executives declined to be more precise than that, saying the company’s engineers would do a complete reassessment of the manufacturing and delivery schedule that wouldn’t be ready until the end of March.

Boeing’s airline customers have been waiting for the outcome of that assessment to learn of their new delivery dates.

Reacting to the analyst report, 787 spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said the schedule assessment is “really complex work” and isn’t finished.

The new schedule won’t be finalized “until that assessment is done,” Leach said, “And it isn’t done yet.”

Boeing still aims to have that ready for its customers by month-end, she said.

The first flight of the Dreamliner originally was scheduled for the end of August 2007, with first delivery to ANA in May 2008.

Safran’s note said that the next program milestone — the switching on of the electrical systems in Dreamliner number 1, called “Power-On” — won’t happen until the summer. It had been expected this month.

“Our sources indicate 787 ‘Power-on’, scheduled for March end, may be delayed until the end of June. First flight, expected three months after “Power-on”, may be further delayed. We now think deliveries will start in (third quarter 2009) vs. the current “early ’09” target,” Safran wrote in his note.

He also said that final assembly of Dreamliners number 4 through 6 is delayed, suggesting that he’s relying on information from suppliers currently making the sections of those airplanes in Italy, Japan and South Carolina.

Safran said the delay in delivering planes 4-6 is “significant as we think (Boeing) needs six aircraft in flight test for 11 months.”

His note made a new estimate that Boeing will be able to deliver only about 50 Dreamliners in 2009, instead of his previous estimate of 80 jets. Accordingly, Safran lowered his projected share price expectation from $98 to $88.

Boeing’s stock fell more than 3 percent on the report, to $77.03 this morning.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or