Boeing Rolls Out the Dreamliner
After the ceremonial debut of its carbon-fiber jetliner, the planemaker has Airbus and delivery dates to contend with
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first large carbon-fiber jetliner, makes its debut on July 8 in Everett, Wash.
by Stanley Holmes
Five years ago, Boeing (BA) bet its future on plastics. On July 8, the company showed the airline industry just how that gamble is about to pay off as it rolled out a shimmering blue-and-white 787 Dreamliner before 15,000 guests and announced at least another $5 billion in new orders for the jet.
The rollout ceremony is largely a symbolic event�but an important one in the development of a new jetliner. Plane No. 1 is not yet ready to fly. Yet it is the first time airline customers and the public get to touch and feel commercial aviation's first large carbon-fiber jetliner. The leap to a composite fuselage and wing, and the use of other advanced technologies, has reshaped the industry and resurrected Boeing's fortunes.
The use of composites will ultimately replace aluminum in future commercial airplane programs, opening new possibilities for increased fuel efficiency, better environmental quality, and improved passenger comfort. "We think it will change air travel," says Douglas Steenland, president and CEO of Northwest Airlines (NWA), which has 18 Dreamliners on order and options for 50 more.
Customers Still Queuing Up
Steenland was standing underneath the belly of the new Dreamliner, parked just outside Boeing's Everett (Wash.) plant, as throngs of employees and guests touched the new jet, kicked the tires, and snapped photos of the first new Boeing jetliner in a decade. Steenland says the technology advances in the Dreamliner only happen once every 10 years. He credited Boeing for using the new technology to appeal to airline companies trying to cut costs and improve the passenger experience. "We have a very big bet on this airplane," he said.
The initial success of the Dreamliner has forced rival Airbus to follow with its own version of a new composite jetliner�the A350 WXB�which has begun to attract some buyers. This heated rivalry will benefit passengers in ways that previous new airplane designs have paid only lip service to. Think wider fuselages for more legroom, improved air filtration systems for cleaner air on long flights, and lower altitude pressurization for less altitude sickness among passengers.
Few can argue with the Dreamliner's continued success. On the eve of the rollout, airlines continued buying the airplane. Air Berlin ordered 25 of the new 787-8, valued at $4 billion at list prices. Aviation Lease & Finance Co. (ALAFCO) of Kuwait bought 10 787-8s, worth about $1.62 billion, and Qantas Airways, which already has purchased 45 Dreamliners, ordered an additional 20 of the aircraft. That makes 47 customers that have ordered a record 677 Dreamliners since its launch in 2004.
Promises to Keep
Even Airbus President and CEO Louis Gallois took note of the Dreamliner's technological and commercial success. In a letter to Boeing Chairman and CEO James McNerney, Gallois wrote: "Today is a great day in aviation history. For, whenever such a milestone is reached in our industry, it always is a reflection of hard work by dedicated people inspired by the wonder of flight.�Airbus will get back to the business of competing vigorously, [but] today is Boeing's day�a day to celebrate the 787."
Boeing executives celebrated the milestone with customers at a posh party at Boeing's Museum of Flight on the evening of July 7. But they know Airbus is working hard to narrow the gap. As the recent flurry of new aircraft orders from the Paris Air Show suggests, rival Airbus is back with a credible competitor�the A350 XWB family of three midsize, long-range jetliners (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/18/07, "Airbus' Big Paris Curtain-Raiser").http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/jul2007/db2007079_638051.htm?campaign_id=yhoo--------------------------------------------------
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