While China starts construction of the world’s largest oversea bridge, Boeing celebrates a less earthbound milestone: the initial flight of its long-delayed 787 Dreamliner jet.
Unveiled to great fanfare in 2005, the Dreamliner was hailed as an entirely new direction for the airline industry, with half the plane made out of lightweight, yet strong carbon-fiber composite material, which the company touts will yield greater durability and fuel efficiency. It was a winning spiel; customers placed more orders for the plan ahead of its first flight than any previous passenger jet.
Turning the blueprints and marketing materials into a saleable commercial model has proved an unprecedented challenge for America’s airplane maker. Back in 2005, first flight was pegged for late 2007, with commercial order fulfillment starting in mid-2008.
That was half a dozen delays ago, not to mention a strike by Boeing machinists, and a host of problems with the plane’s massive supply chain of some 300 global suppliers. The company now hopes to start delivering planes to the first customer, All Nippon Airways, one year from now.
But Boeing has miles to go before delivering its first Dreamliner. As The Wall Street Journal reported, Boeing’s European competitor, Airbus, faced similarly disastrous delays in manufacturing its A380 superjumbo jet, because its manufacturing systems weren’t robust enough: “Two years after A380 deliveries started, Airbus officials say the plane’s production costs still outstrip its selling price.”
Even once deliveries start, filling the 865 pre-orders will take several years. Boeing pledges to build seven Dreamliners a month by 2011, and 10 a month by 2013. As the Journal reports, it took Boeing 14 years to build production of its larger, aluminum-shelled 777 beyond seven a month. It sounds as though Boeing isn’t through with overpromising results on its promising new jet.