787 program now on track

Singapore Air Show » 2010
January 30, 2010, 9:23 PM

For Boeing employees watching the first flight of the 787 Dreamliner on December 15, there was a palpable sense of relief and joy when test pilots Mike Carriker and Randy Neville lifted 787 ZA001 off the wet runway at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. ZA002, in livery of launch customer All Nippon Airways, made its first flight about a week later, on December 22.

Since ZA002’s first flight, the two flight test airplanes have logged dozens of hours, foreshadowing an ambitious and busy test schedule that has a goal of certification and initial deliveries at the end of this year. According to Boeing, six flight test airplanes will all be flying by June, and 34 test pilots will be involved in the test and certification program.

Both ZA001 and 002 are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines. The fifth airplane will feature General Electric’s GEnx engines.

A Matter of Size

The 787 is a big bet for Boeing on many fronts, both technologically and marketwise. When Boeing launched sales of the 787 in 2003, company researchers developed an elaborate presentation that underscored a major philosophical change.

Boeing’s analysis of the airline market showed that airplane sizes, measured in number of passenger seats, were steadily declining. To Boeing, this meant that
Airbus’s massive 500- to more than 800-passenger A380 megaliner was the wrong airplane for the coming times. The declining size of airplanes signaled to Boeing that a new and untapped market niche was available; a smaller airplane that could fly farther than existing 200-passenger airliners and thus allow airlines to provide more point-to-point service.

If you are flying from Philadelphia to Zurich, for example, why would you want to stop in New York and London on the way? Why not just fly directly from your departure point to your destination? Not having to fill almost 1,000 seats with paying passengers makes point-to-point routes likely profitable for airlines, too.
Boeing’s analysis and timing appear to be paying off, even though the 787’s first flight occurred nearly two-and-a-half years after originally planned and after numerous delays due to airframe-related supplier problems. The payoff is threefold. First, the 787 promises to be 20 percent more fuel efficient than comparable airplanes and save 30 percent on maintenance costs. Added to that is the efficiency and safety of flying point-to-point. Eliminating one stop not only saves a lot of fuel and time, it greatly improves safety by eliminating an entire landing and takeoff event from each long trip.

The third payoff is the 787’s orderbook. Though orders stood at 910 at the beginning of 2009, the orderbook still held an impressive 861 units at the end of last week, making the 787 the fastest selling commercial airplane in history.

Three versions of the 787 (see box) are on offer–the 787-8, -9 and -3–although as of this writing, there were no -3 versions on order. The first 787 to fly is a -8 version. The heaviest version will be the -9, which has a maximum takeoff weight of 545,000 pounds. Maximum cruise speed for all three models will be Mach 0.85.

Price for the 787-8 ranges from $161- to $171.5 million, and the 787-9 will cost $194- to $205.5 million. Just last month, Boeing logged an order for 10 B787s from Ethiopian Airlines. The 861 backlog of 787s includes seven -8 models sold to VIP customers.

On the technical side, Boeing is gambling that it can efficiently build an airframe that is 50 percent composite materials and with systems mostly powered by electricity, with no pneumatic systems. New engines are a risk, too, but the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and GE’s GEnx are based on well-proven and reliable technology.

Compared to similar-sized airplanes, the 787–with four massive 250 kVA generators (two per engine) and two 225 kVA generators on the auxiliary power unit eliminates 60 miles of copper wiring. The large generators also require 35 percent less engine power than using bleed air to power pneumatic systems, as is done on current airplanes.

Avionics are by Rockwell Collins and include five 15.1-inch LCDs and head-up displays for both pilots as a standard feature. Flight controls are fly-by-wire, but like all other Boeing models, the pilots use traditional yokes instead of sidesticks. Boeing’s philosophy has long been that both pilots need to be able to see the yoke position in relation to the movement of flight controls, especially when handing control from one pilot to the other.

The 787 airframe is made of 50 percent composite materials, including a filament-wound fuselage. The strength of the fuselage shell allowed Boeing engineers to build in larger windows that allow passengers to view the airplane’s attitude easily.

Shop the Dreamliner Gallery

A major difference in the way the 787 is sold and assembled is that Boeing has changed the way buyers specify interior furnishings. On previous models, the airline would work directly with vendors of carpets, ovens, galleys, lavatories, seats, in-flight entertainment and so forth. But on the 787, Boeing has selected the vendors and invites customers to do their shopping in the Dreamliner Gallery in Everett.

Where a large airline used to employ more than 150 people to work with vendors for a large airplane order, now the airline needs only about six people to visit the gallery and make the selections. The new vendor relationships don’t mean that buyers don’t get plenty of choices. There are 500 ways to configure a 787 galley, for example.

Boeing’s new system should make airplane buying and specifying much simpler and cost-effective. On the 777, there are 122 different coffeemaker choices, but just two on the 787, a BE system where the customer can elect to have the spigot on the right or left side. The 787’s BE coffeemaker costs about half the price compared to those used on other Boeing airplanes.

Airlines can also use Boeing’s eConfig online software to do much of their selection and configuration from the comfort of their own offices. The eConfig system includes a handy tool that allows testing of various seating configurations that automatically takes into account head-injury-criteria and other limitations. All of the choices in the Gallery catalog are pre-certified, which greatly streamlines the entire interior selection process.

The Dreamliner Gallery also includes business suites for customer personnel so they can set up an office during the specification process. And the vendors selected by Boeing do get to meet the airline buyers at the gallery. Customers can also try out all the available passenger seats in the gallery’s seating room without traveling from vendor to vendor.

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