Patient buyers retain high hopes for 787
By Pilita Clark, Aerospace Correspondent
Published: July 16 2010 19:35 Last updated: July 16 2010 19:35
The threat of more delays for Boeing’s already overdue 787 Dreamliner has cast a shadow over the world’s newest passenger jet as it heads for its first public appearance outside the US at England’s Farnborough air show this weekend.
Flight test holdups could push deliveries to Japan’s All Nippon Airways, the Dreamliner’s launch customer, back from the end of this year to the first weeks of 2011, the US manufacturer said, though it still hopes to meet the original deadline.
The latest potential setback follows a series of costly production hiccups that have caused delays of more than two years for the aircraft, Boeing’s first new model jet in nearly 15 years.
But when it finally enters service, the fuel-saving 787 promises to shake up the landscape for the 50-plus customer airlines which have ordered a total of 863 of the aircraft, making it, according to the US manufacturer, the fastest-selling model it has produced.
Unlike traditional aluminium aircraft, nearly 50 per cent of Boeing’s Dreamliner, including its wings and fuselage, will be made of light, carbon fibre composites, similar to the material used in golf clubs and tennis racquets.
While experienced observers warn that new aircraft sometimes fail to meet promised claims, customers hope this and other technical advances will allow them to connect distant cities more efficiently.
“We’re quite ambitious to expand our destinations,” says Keisuke Okada, the ANA board member who guided the airline’s decision to become the 787’s first customer, adding that he hoped it could be used on routes from Japan to the west coast of the US and Europe.
Like most 787 customers, Mr Okada was reluctant to give rivals a detailed idea of precisely which new routes ANA might open.
Continental Airlines of the US is an exception. It says it will start a pioneering nonstop flight from its Houston hub to Auckland in New Zealand once it gets its first 787 next year.
All the Dreamliner buyers believe the jet will offer a competitive edge.
“Given fuel is now the biggest single item in an airline’s operating cost, a 25 per cent saving per seat is a big change in the economics of the aircraft,” says Edmond Rose, commercial director at Virgin Atlantic in the UK, which is due to get its first Dreamliner in 2014 and is looking at routes to Asia, Africa and Latin America.
“We expect the 787 to make it possible to fly some routes that with our current fleet would be uneconomic,” he said, citing, for example, the fact that a Honolulu service would be economic.
Virgin could be beaten to that route by Tui Travel, Europe’s largest travel group. Its UK airlines are due to see Britain’s first 787 Dreamliner in January 2012.
“It will open up any number of destinations,” says Mark German, Tui’s head of aircraft management. Beyond distance, he hopes Boeing’s claims of better internal pressurisation and humidity levels in the 787 will deliver a better flying atmosphere, making it popular with the group’s holidaying passengers.
“If people get off after a 12 hour flight feeling better than after a 12 hour flight on a legacy carrier flight, they should be able to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to go on that again. I wasn’t groggy, I wasn’t dried out, it was a complete change in how I’ve done this holiday before’.”