“The second member of the super-efficient 787 family rolled out of the Everett, Wash., factory today to the flight line, where teams are preparing it to fly later this summer,” Boeing (NYSE:BA) said in a Saturday press release announcing that the aerospace company had completed building the first aircraft in the latest model of the Dreamliner, the 787-9. The plane will be delivered to Air New Zealand (ANZFF.PK), the 787-9’s first customer, in the middle of 2014.
A second and third aircraft are in final assembly, and as the aircraft rolled off the assembly line, it capped a difficult few months for Boeing. Since January, the Dreamliner has been plagued with mechanical difficulties.
Two battery meltdowns forced regulators in the United States and Japan to ground the Dreamliner fleet for three-and-a-half months; a Honeywell-manufactured (NYSE:HON) emergency beacon of an Ethiopian Airlines-operated 787 started a blaze aboard a parked aircraft in July; and, nearly two weeks ago, wiring defects were found in the fire extinguishing units for the plane’s two engines. Defects have also been found in fuel pump indicators, electric panels, and even a plane oven. Planes — like a United Continental (NYSE:UAL) jet — have been ground and investigations launched.
Many industry experts attribute these incidents as typical “teething problems” of the new passenger plane, but the rash of minor mechanical issues discovered since the 787 resumed operations will not make it any easier for the company to put the worldwide grounding of the Dreamliner in its rearview mirror.
Following that grounding, Boeing fought to rebuild trust in the wide-body plane. And, for the most part, it has: The company’s stock has gained more than 40 percent so far this year and is currently trading a few dollars shy of its 52-week high of $109.49.
Even more significant for manufacturer’s prospects is the fact that more than 82 orders have been placed for the 787 so far this year, with the largest order — 42 Dreamliners — coming from AMR Corp.’s (AAMRQ.PK) American Airlines. Some of the technologies have caused problems for the Dreamliner because they have never been used before in jet design, but they are also the technologies that make the plane more fuel efficient than its peers and one of the most advanced planes in airline history, according to CNN.
Boeing’s Dreamliner is 60 percent less noisy than other planes of a similar size and capability. Advances in engineering allowed the plane’s fuselage to be made of lightweight composite materials, which contributes to its fuel efficiency.
The 787’s advanced electrical system is one of the plane’s key innovations, and Boeing used solid-state components in the 787’s powerful electrical and computer systems in place of many traditional mechanical parts and wiring to make the Dreamliner lighter and burn less fuel.
The plane emits less nitrogen dioxide and has more stamina, meaning it is the only midsize plane that can fly long-range routes, according to Boeing. The manufacturer also promised more space for passengers to “move about in the cabin,” but operators will have say whether each row will be configured with eight or nine seats per row.
The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is a much larger incarnation of the technically advanced plane than the 787-8; its is 206 feet long, 20 feet longer than the previous version, and holds 40 more passengers. It can fly farther, with a range of 8,000-8,5000 nautical miles, while still using 20 percent less fuel than other planes its size. In comparison, the 787-8 Dreamliner has a range of 7,650-8,200 nautical miles.
Yet, with all the setbacks, some experts suggest that profitability for the plane won’t come until the 2020s, according to the Seattle Times. A conservative estimate made by the publication put Boeing’s total investment in the Dreamliner program at more than $32 billion so far.
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