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The company confirmed Thursday that it will begin conducting test flights with inaugural customer All Nippon Airways in Japan on July 4. If all goes well, ANA will officially take delivery of its first 787 in "August or September." After that, the company plans to rapidly ramp deliveries, handing out 787s hither and yon to customers ranging from ANA and Aeroflot abroad to AMR (NYSE: AMR ) and United Continental (NYSE: UAL ) here in the States.
Fasten your seat belts. We're about to land
In many respects, this is good news. After three years of delays to delivery, investors are cheering the prospect of an end to this nightmare flight. As I predicted in December, Boeing is well on its way to becoming one of the best stocks of 2011, its shares outperforming the S&P 500 by a good 12 percentage points since the year began. That said, there's good reason pilots make you fasten your seat belts when landing. The most dangerous part of any flight is when the airplane makes contact with terra firma.
Boeing's biggest worry now is penalties. Back in January, management assured us that despite all its troubles, the Dreamliner program was still "profitable." This was good to hear, seeing as the company had just agreed to pay penalties to supplier Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR ) for "claims associated with the development and production of the 787-8 airplane." But Spirit is far from the only supplier that may have a beef with Boeing. Precision Castparts (NYSE: PCP ) , Honeywell (NYSE: HON ) , General Electric (NYSE: GE ) -- any or all of these suppliers, and dozens more, may have claims against the company. They may only be waiting for deliveries to begin, and the delays to become "fixed in time," to make calculating the damages easier.
And that's just the beginning. In February, Air India accused Boeing of causing it $1.32 billion in lost revenues through delayed Dreamliner deliveries. AI hasn't sued for damages (that we know of). But it might. Or its purchase contract with Boeing might specify liquidated damages for delivery delays. As might Delta, AMR, United ... The list goes on, and stretches well past the 800 Dreamliners scheduled for delivery, each and every one of them -- late.
How big of an issue is this for Boeing? Will it turn a profit on the Dreamliner, as it's promised to do? Add the stock to your watchlist and find out.