Study tracks Dreamliner flight hours

A new study is tracking the flight test hours of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner as a way to gauge whether the program's schedule will stay on track for type certification in mid-September.

Boeing estimates it will take 3,100 flight hours to reach certification by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the study by UBS Securities analyst David Strauss.

That means Boeing must average three flying hours per airplane per day — roughly 17 flight hours a day once all six aircraft in the test program are flying — if it's to receive certification in the next eight months.

Certification allows for deliveries to customers.

So far, flight testing is progressing better than expected, Strauss wrote in a report.

"While very early in the flight program, Boeing would appear on plan so far," Strauss wrote.

The 787 has been plagued by program delays and is two years behind its original schedule.

By the end of Wednesday, Boeing flight test pilots have flown the 787 a total of 53 hours in 20 flights. That's nine hours ahead of what Strauss estimates should be flown by now.

Boeing has been averaging roughly 3.4 total flight hours a day.

Getting the 787 flying posed some risk to the program, but "we believe there is a lot more risk to run in both the flight test program and production ramp," Strauss wrote.

Typically, the most meaningful problems for an aircraft in development come during flight testing, he wrote. "We wouldn't expect the 787 to be the exception."

The aggressive production ramp-up schedule significantly raises the potential for further problems, Strauss said in the report.

In its history of producing jets, Boeing has never built 120 widebodies of any one type, as it's planning to do within its first three years of 787 production, the report said.

Two aircraft are in the flight test program, although the second plane had a landing gear issue in its first flight and hasn't flown since then, the report said.

Four additional aircraft will be phased into the flight test program over the next several months, the report said.

Boeing is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter and year-end earnings on Jan. 27.