The Boeing 787 Dreamliner sparkled Saturday in a rare Pacific Northwest sunshine as the plane made its long-awaited debut.
Boeing on Saturday afternoon rolled out the first 787 Dreamliner to be delivered to launch customer All Nippon Airways, decked out with the blue and white colors of the Japanese airline.
Boeing presented the plane to ANA executives and crew under clear skies at its Everett factory north of Seattle. The first domestic flights are set to start in Japan in September.
“The plane is being certified to the highest FAA standards,” said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager, 787 program. “But the real focus of the traveling public will likely be on customer satisfaction and the elegance of the flight.”
Three years overdue and billions of dollars over the budget, Boeing will finally deliver the 787 Dreamliner to Japan’s All Nippon Airways next month in Tokyo.
The plane is scheduled to be the first to carry commercial passengers in the 787 Dreamliner series, which has been plagued by delays but promises to revolutionize air travel.
“We are rolling out the first delivery airplane, the first 787. That’s an amazing thing for those who have worked on the program five, six, seven years, here at Boeing and our partners around the world,” said Scott Fancher, Boeing’s vice president and general manager of the 787 program.
The plane is the first commercial airliner to be made mostly of carbon composites or super durable plastic. Those materials mean a lighter plane that Boeing says could use 20% less fuel than conventional airliners, making way for a more environmentally-friendly and cost effective aircraft option for airlines.
So far, according to Boeing, the manufacturer has more than 800 orders for the 787 Dreamliner, which has a list price of about $200 million per plane.
Boeing is developing two Dreamliners. The first version, the 787-8, holds 210 to 250 passengers on routes. A second version, the 787-9, holds 250 to 290 passengers and is designed for longer international routes.
All Nippon Airways has ordered 55 Dreamliners and Mitsuo Morimoto, the airline’s senior vice president, said the airline will develop new routes around the Dreamliner’s capabilities.
“We plan to use the 787 to expand our business, particularly our international routes. We plan to increase our revenue from international route significantly and the 787 will play an instrumental role in this,” Morimoto said.
The airline is considering a route from Japan to the U.S. or Europe that would employ the 787 Dreamliner, Morimoto said.
Despite the 787 Dreamliner’s revolutionary promise, Boeing has struggled to manufacture the plane.
Boeing’s outsourcing of much of the plane’s construction to an army of contractors around the world led to delays and cost overruns.
The future of a new assembly plant in South Carolina is also in doubt. Boeing’s machinist union accuses the manufacturer of putting the plant there rather than in Washington state to take advantage of South Carolina’s weaker labor laws.
The National Labor Relations Board has threatened to shut down the plant. To meet demand for the new plane, Boeing said it will need to increase production of the plane from two 787 Dreamliners a month to 10 a month by the end of 2013.
“It’s an extraordinary challenge, no one has ever built a wide body aircraft at the rate of 10 per month before. So I think Boeing has its work cut out for it,” said John Ostrower, a writer for Flight International Magazine.
“I would say the biggest challenge is as they head into this ramp up is making sure 787 is as profitable for themselves as they hope it will be for their customers,” Ostrower said.
The airline will inaugurate the 787 Dreamliner on a special charter from Tokyo to Hong Kong this fall, the company said.
The 787-8 Dreamliner made its maiden flight on December 15, 2009, lasting just over 3 hours, originating from Snohomish County Airport (PAE) near Everett, Washington at 10:27 a.m. PST, and landing at Boeing Field (BFI) in King County, Washington at 1:35 p.m. PST.
There were originally 6 aircraft in the flight test program, registration ZA001 through ZA006, four with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines and two with GE GEnx-1B64 engines.
One of these, ZA002, encountered an incident on November 9, 2010, and made an emergency landing after smoke and flames were detected in the main cabin during a test flight over Texas.
The electrical fire caused some systems to fail before landing, and was eventually attributed to foreign object debris (FOD) that was present in the electrical bay. Following this incident, Boeing suspended flight testing on November 10, 2010, and performed ground testing instead.
As of June 17, 2011, the combined Boeing 787 test aircraft had flown a total of 3,989 hours in 1,461 flights. Starting on July 4, 2011, All Nippon Airways began a week of airline operations testing using a 787 in Japan.
Delivery of ANA’s first Dreamliner, JA801A, will take place in late September 2011. The carrier will receive a total of twelve 787s during its current fiscal year, which runs through March 2012, and eight in the following fiscal year, according to the carrier’s Senior Vice President Mitsuo Morimoto.
The launch airline has ordered a total of 55 Dreamliners, with options to purchase 50 additional planes.
Boeing has firm orders for 827 of the aircraft, at a unit cost of US$185.2 million for the 787-8 and US$218.1 million for the larger “stretched” fuselage 787-9. The aircraft is expected to pass FAA certification in the very near future.