Certification Ends Development Nightmares for Boeing 787 Dreamliner

 - August 29, 2011, 7:35 AM
An August 26 ceremony at Boeing’s Paine Field facility in Everett, Wash., announcing the completion of initial certification for the 787 Dreamliner marked the end of a positive week that also saw Delta Air Lines order 100 737-900ERs. [Photo: Evan Sweetman]

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which during its seven-times delayed development program has seemed more of a nightmare than a dream, became a joyful reality on August 26 when the new widebody received initial type certification. Nothing now stands in the way of Boeing delivering the first Dreamliner to launch customer ANA of Japan on September 26–some 40 months later than the May 2008 target date set when the program was launched in April 2004.

The approval by both the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency covers the 787-8 model powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines. Flight testing is continuing for the Dreamliner variants powered by General Electric GEnx-1B turbofans and the improved “Package B” Trent 1000.

What remains unclear is the rate at which Boeing will step up production of the 787, following its long struggle to iron out kinks in the 787’s complex production process. “I’m not sure what the production schedule will look like,” Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told AIN at the August 26 certification ceremony at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. “Currently, we are working on two a month.”

The company also has not yet committed to an official delivery schedule for the Dreamliner. “We will increase the rate of production as soon as we’re ready,” said Scott Fancher, 787 program vice president. Meanwhile, the backlog of 787 orders has fallen by six during August, to 821. Boeing has not revealed which customer or customers initiated the latest cancellations, which total 26 so far this year.

But on the whole, last week was a good one for the U.S. airframer, which also closed a deal for Delta Air Lines to buy 100 of its 737-900ER narrowbodies. And a month after European rival Airbus achieved a significant breakthrough in the U.S. market with a major order from American Airlines for its new A320neo airliner, the recovery of the 787 program seems to have restored Wall Street’s confidence in Boeing, as the group’s share price closed at 62.80 in New York trading on August 26. This is up from a 52-week low of 56.01 just over two weeks earlier on August 11 and is almost a 100-percent improvement on where the stock stood in the spring of 2009, when the Dreamliner program was bedeviled by problems with suppliers and a labor dispute.

Separately, Boeing Commercial Airplanes sales vice president Marlin Dailey is moving to a new position as president of Boeing Germany, Northern Europe/EU and Africa. Replacing him in an expanded role of senior vice president sales and customer support is Ray Conner.