Boeing Co. was to hand over the first 787 Dreamliner on Monday to end more than three years of delays for a plane the company says will become a benchmark for decades in terms of technology and passenger amenities.
All Nippon Airways Co. was to take delivery at a ceremony in Everett, Washington state, of the first jetliner with a fuselage made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic materials. Struggles with the composites and the manufacturing process had pushed back the jet’s entry into service seven times since 2007.
Boeing is counting on the Dreamliner to help it reclaim the top spot in 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 the 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 at a briefing in Everett on Sunday.
The twin-engine 787 is Boeing’s best-selling new jet ever, with 821 orders from 56 customers. Boeing is working to boost production to 10 a month, a record for wide-body aircraft, after the setbacks increased costs, sent 787 inventory ballooning to $16.2 billion through June and upset airlines’ timetables for adding new routes.
Carriers have penalty clauses written into contracts for late deliveries. ANA 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, ANA’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 said Sunday in Everett. “We are quite confident in Boeing’s ability” to meet delivery targets as production ratchets up.
The 55 787s on order at ANA will make the airline the biggest operator of the plane. 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.
“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 company’s biggest twin-engine aircraft. Boeing 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 that have been the domain of larger aircraft.
“This airplane is positioned to capitalize on one of the biggest challenges in aviation — the operating cost of fuel and maintenance,” Fancher said. “This is positioned to challenge those head-on.”
The 787’s new Rolls-Royce engine, an option along with a General Electric 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 than on other planes.
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