Boeing will hand over the first 787 Dreamliner Monday to end more than three years of delays for an aircraft the company insists will become a benchmark for decades for technology and passenger amenities.
All Nippon Airways Co. will take delivery at a ceremony in Everett, Washington, of the first jetliner with a fuselage made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic materials. Boeing’s struggled with composites and as a result the manufacturing process was pushed back seven times since 2007.
The American aircraft manufacturer is counting on the Dreamliner to help reclaim the top spot in industry sales lost to Airbus SAS in 2003. The composite body is lighter than traditional aluminum, cutting fuel use, and upgrades such as LED lighting and larger windows are designed to improve passengers? in-flight experience.
?We?ve developed a set of technologies that will serve as the backbone of our airplanes for the next 30 years,? Scott Fancher, the 787 program chief, told reporters Sunday at a briefing in Everett.
The twin-engine 787 is Chicago-based manufacturer’s best-selling new jet ever, with 821 orders from 56 customers. Boeing is working to boost production to 10 units a month, a record for wide-body aircraft. The setbacks increased costs and sent the 787 inventory ballooning to $16.2 billion through June and upset many airlines? timetables for adding new routes.
Carriers have penalty clauses written into contracts for late deliveries. All Nippon has worked with Boeing to receive?767s and 777s?to blunt the effect of not getting the 787 in May 2008 as planned. Satoru Fujiki, All Nippon?s senior vice president for the Americas, declined to give financial details.
?We have waited three years, and finally we have reached first delivery,? Fujiki told reporters yesterday in Everett. ?We are quite confident in Boeing?s ability to meet delivery targets as production ratchets up,” he added.
The 55 787s ordered by All Nippon would make the Tokyo-based airline the biggest operator of Boeing. It plans to offer the first passenger flight on Oct. 26 as a special trip between Tokyo?and?Hong Kong.
The jets will start on shorter routes within?Japan, because the first ones are overweight and not as fuel-efficient, Fujiki said. Regular domestic service will start Nov. 1 between Haneda and Okayama and Hiroshima, followed by intercontinental service between Haneda and Frankfurt?in January after the carrier receives several more of the planes.
Boeing shares rose 79 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $59.51 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading last Friday, snapping a streak of four declines. The shares have fallen 41 percent since the initial 787 delay was announced almost four years ago.
?I?m sleeping better than I have been for awhile,? said Dan Mooney, Boeing?s vice president of development for the 787- 8, the initial Dreamliner variant being built. ?But our next challenge is getting that production system stable.?
The Dreamliner is Boeing?s first new jet in 16 years, after the 777, the aircraft manufacturer’s biggest twin-engine aircraft. The company doesn?t expect to develop another new plane until next decade, after deciding in July to upgrade the engines on the 737 instead of building a replacement jet.
The 787 promises to be 20 percent cheaper to operate, than comparably sized jets, due to the lightweight materials and a new all-electric system that doesn?t divert air from the engines for power. Boeing is marketing the plane, which seats 210 to 290 people, for long-haul routes such as Tokyo-New York.
BIG CHALLENGES AHEAD
The 787?s new Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engine, an option along with a?General Electric Co. (GE)?model, collects data every few seconds and transmits it so parts can be waiting for any repairs at the plane?s next stop, according to the London-based manufacturer.
Boeing drew from a decade of research by psychologists and architects to make?air travel more comfortable for passengers with the 787.
The bigger windows feature dimming glass that replaces window shades; bigger luggage bins that still allow for more headroom; and LED lighting that highlights new archways. Because plastics don?t corrode like metals, cabin air can have more humidity and be kept at a higher pressure, so travelers feel they?re at a lower altitude like other planes.
“Boeing will continue to refine the 787?s interior,” Kent Craver, regional director of passenger satisfaction and revenue for Boeing, said while speaking to reporters.
“It’s pretty different,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group.
“They’ve got to start building aircraft from the word ‘go’ and figure out the most efficient flow. And there’s no pattern for that,” he said.
A further wrinkle, Aboulafia said, is a new assembly plant in South Carolina. Boeing intends to assemble three Dreamliners per month at the plant, where workers have less experience than their Washington counterparts, who will make the other seven.
Cai von Rumohr, an analyst at Cowen and Co, said few aviation experts would be surprised if Boeing failed to meet its end-2013 production-rate target.
“I think everyone wouldn’t be shocked,” he said. “It could take them longer than that for sure.
“Everyone knows that’s a challenge,” von Rumohr added. “So I think all of us are a little nervous and skeptical that they can really do it on that schedule, because that’s pretty ambitious.”
Despite the delays and further challenges, Boeing’s airline customers remain enthusiastic about their Dreamliner orders.
Boeing plans to make 10 Dreamliners per month from 2013.
Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC