Singapore Air Show

Lacking orders, Boeing poised to scrap 787-3 program

 - February 2, 2010, 2:35 AM

The Boeing 787-3 program appears all but dead after Boeing vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth yesterday expressed grave doubts about the market viability of the short-range version of the present 787-8. “This is an airplane that is designed for the Japanese market. We have no Japanese customers. We have no customers for it at all,” said Tinseth. “I would find it far fetched to believe that we’ll proceed with that airplane.”

Tinseth wouldn’t insert the last nail in the 787-3’s proverbial coffin, however, as Boeing has yet to officially cancel the program.

Meanwhile, flight testing on the Trent 1000-powered 787-8s continues to progress. Since the Dreamliner’s December 15 first flight, two of the planned six prototypes have flown more than 70 hours during 19 flights, reported Tinseth. The third and fourth airplanes are to fly later this month; ZA004 is to fly first, followed by ZA003, which Boeing plans to test with a passenger cabin installed for environmental testing. The final two airplanes will fly with GEnx engines, he said.

So far, pilots have taken the airplanes to 31,000 feet and Mach 0.86. The next milestone, said Tinseth, involves type inspection authorization, where regulators join Boeing engineers to begin certification testing.   

“Clearly we have had issues [with the 787]. We have disappointed our customers and ourselves,” he said. Nevertheless, the Boeing executive sang the praises of the airplane’s capabilities and did his best to instill confidence that the company would maintain its current development schedule, leading to certification and first delivery to Japan’s ANA by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s other major development program–the 747-8–appears to have found its stride as well. Last week the OEM finished systems gauntlet testing on the pair of prototypes; next it plans low- and high-speed taxi testing, then, finally, first flight, which Tinseth said would happen “relatively soon.”

Despite recent distractions and the undeniably difficult economic environment, “the underlying engine of Boeing Commercial Airplanes is running well,” concluded Tinseth. Sounding mainly upbeat, the marketing vice president added that while the economic recovery has begun, it won’t be quick and even. He said Boeing would build between 460 and 465 airplanes this year, after delivering 481 last year. He attributed the decline to a particular weakness in the cargo market, which, he noted, has also affected demand in the broader widebody segment.