Boeing not locked in to 787-9 size

Paris Air Show » 2005
December 13, 2006, 1:37 PM

Boeing does not yet know what size its 787-9 will be. Although long projected as 202 feet, its length remains unresolved until the U.S. manufacturer has a better feel for what the market requires–or perhaps what Airbus, its European competitor, is offering.

Nominally, the 787-9 is a 259-passenger, three-class design offering airlines a range of “roughly 8,300 nautical miles,” according to 787 program manager Mike Bair. But he conceded here yesterday that there was “some room to trade [seats for range].”

Bair told Aviation International News that it is not a matter of moving a bulkhead, or removing galleys or toilets to create space. He said “several” more seat rows could be provided: “We could do better [than 259 seats] and probably keep the range–it’s not a fixed length airplane.”

Since the -9 accommodates 36 more passengers than its similarly configured -3 longer-range stablemate in four more rows, an additional several rows seems to imply at least an additional 27 travelers in a cabin that would need to be, say, eight feet longer in the existing configuration. Bair said the 787-9 could become shorter or longer than its current length.

There was no pressure for Boeing to commit itself. “We’ve had no detailed discussions,” he claimed. “In theory, we don’t need to decide for two-and-a-half years,” said Bair, alluding to the period by which the longer variant trails the initial -8 model. The 787-8 is currently predicted to enter service in mid-2008, about two years ahead of the 787-3, which leads the -9 by a few months.

The wing skin measures almost 50 feet long by nearly 20 feet wide and has been produced in conjunction with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which will make 787 wing boxes in Japan. Bair said the first wingbox is “going together.”   

The Boeing official said that first detail designs have been released and the 787 firm configuration would be frozen this summer. With some 266 aircraft covered by orders or other deals with undefined levels of commitment, Bair said there were a further 420 machines “in the works” subject to proposals made to another 27 operators.

All currently planned 787 production for 2008-10 is spoken for, and Boeing is considering how it might accelerate manufacturing rates to deliver additional aircraft in that period. He said about 95 aircraft would go to customers during 2008-09.

Bair confirmed that, like Airbus, its composite wing would include internal aluminum alloy ribs. Design  freeze is this summer. 

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