Boeing didn’t have to contrive any sense of jubilation today in rain-soaked Everett, Wash., as it delivered the first 787 Dreamliner to Japan’s All Nippon Airways. It staged the event after three years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns on a complex program that at times appeared to have tested the U.S. airframer to the limit. The entire exercise has also posed serious questions about the viability of outsourcing such significant volumes of design, engineering and production work to such a complex network of global partners.
Today’s ceremonies marked not only an end to some of the most trying years in the company’s storied history, but the start of a new, equally critical period. Now Boeing must accelerate production beyond the current rate of two 787s per month to its goal of 10 per month by the end of 2013 to meet its new delivery commitments. In the meantime, the airplane must deliver on its performance promises, even while Boeing works to shed pounds from the still somewhat overweight widebody.
Since the program’s launch in 2004 Boeing has promised a substantial, but often frustrated, customer base big benefits from the 787, including a 20-percent fuel burn advantage over conventional airliners in its capacity class and a 30-percent maintenance cost reduction. ANA's experience with the new airliner will answer whether it can immediately meet those objectives, or not. The airline will begin flying regular service with the 787 on November 1, from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Okayama and Hiroshima.
Speaking yesterday during a series of briefings on the program in Everett, Satoru Fujiki, ANA senior vice president for North America, conceded that the higher weight of the earliest 787s influenced the airline’s strategy to focus first on short-haul international and domestic services. After ANA completes a pair of promotional round trips between Tokyo Narita International Airport and Hong Kong on November 26 and 27 and begins the scheduled service from Toyko to Okayama and Hiroshima, it plans to fly its first regularly scheduled international service between Tokyo Haneda and Beijing in December. Haneda-Frankfurt service is planned to begin in January.
Including the four 787s due to arrive in Japan this year, schedules call for delivery of 12 airplanes to ANA during the airline’s 2011 fiscal year, which ends March 31. If all goes as planned, eight more will join the fleet in 2012, then the remaining 55, including fifteen 787-9s, by the end of 2017.