Boeing will deliver its first 787 jet on Sunday, injecting new technologies and new routes into the commercial airline industry.
The first "Dreamliner" goes to Japan's All Nippon Airways, which has been printing the 787 logo and "We Fly 1st" on its business cards for years. All Nippon plans to begin flying the 787 to Okayama-Hiroshima from Tokyo on Nov. 11. The first international route will be Tokyo to Frankfurt starting in January.
Airlines love the jet, a fuel miser that can carry between 210 and 290 passengers depending on the model, and have ordered more than 800, well above levels for previous new jets.
Boeing rival Airbus hopes to soon launch its similar new plane, the A350. A successful 787 will put pressure on Airbus to meet its fuel-efficiency goals, and to deliver the plane on time.
Here are eight ways the Dreamliner is different than any commercial jet that's come before:
- Instead of the usual aluminum skin, most of the 787 is covered in carbon fibre, basically a high-tech plastic that is strong but lightweight. Military planes and portions of other jetliners have used that material for years, but this is the first time so much has been used on an airliner.
- The new material's strength allows windows to be bigger and higher, so passengers don't have to hunch over to see the horizon.
- Electronic dimming replaces pull-down shades. That should mean you'll no longer be blinded when the passenger next to you falls asleep with the shade up.
- The cabin is pressurized to the equivalent of 1,800 metres, instead of the usual 2,400 metres. That means air pressure will be closer to what passengers are used to on the ground.
- Without corrosion-prone aluminum skin, the humidity can be kept higher. The changes in cabin pressure and humidity should reduce dry noses and throats.
- The jet will be as much as 20 per cent more fuel-efficient than planes it replaces. Its efficiency was a nice perk when Boeing proposed the 787 in its current form in 2003. Now it's essential for airlines dealing with high fuel costs.
- The 787's size, fuel efficiency and long range should allow airlines to turn a profit on "thin routes" – routes for which there is regular demand that won't fill a larger plane. The first U.S. customer is United Continental Holdings Inc., which will get its first 787s next year and plans to fly them between Houston and New Zealand, and Houston and Nigeria.
- Boeing hopes to build 10 Dreamliners a month by the end of 2013. No one has ever made a large plane that quickly. Boeing expects to deliver a combined 25 to 30 of the 787s and new 747-8 this year.
It will be a difficult task – building an all-new plane such as the 787 is a massive undertaking.
Delays have already stacked up for the plane, which was scheduled to be flying three years ago. Boeing was hit with an eight-week strike in 2008. It had to reinforce the spot where the 787's wings meet the fuselage. And the company had to delay the plane further after an electrical fire forced a landing during a test flight.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, thinks Boeing will miss its 10-a-month goal because the company hasn't smoothed out its production process fully.
It's also not clear when the 787 will make money. Boeing already took a $2.43 billion Cdn charge in 2009 on the program, and it owes additional money to customers for the late deliveries. Boeing executives have said they will announce when the jet will be profitable after the first one is delivered.
The 787 list price runs between $190 million and $224 million. Discounts on new jets are common, though. Aboulafia says it's not clear how steep the discounts offered by Boeing were to lock in all the orders.