Dreamliner finally becomes a reality

Some had feared it might never happen, but the first of Boeing's revolutionary Dreamliners has finally been delivered. Although it could all turn into a nightmare...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 15 Jan 2013
Is it a bird? Is it a – well, yes, actually. It’s a plane. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner to be specific, the first of which has just been delivered to Japanese airline All Nippon Airways a mere three years behind schedule, after a string of setbacks (most recently, a fire during test flights in January. Eeek). But while, when the plane enters service in October, it will be a triumph (of sorts) for Boeing, which has always stipulated that its extra-efficient, extra-hi-tech plane would trump the likes of Airbus’ enormous A380 super-jumbo. The real challenge now is whether it can meet demand.

The $200m (£129m) plane, which seats 290 passengers for the largest 787-9 version, is considerably smaller than the 747 we all know and love (never mind the 500-seat A380), but in many ways, is more recession-friendly. After all, not only does its lightweight carbon-fibre design cut fuel consumption by 20%, but it can also go 52% further than Boeing’s nearest equivalent, the 767. Significantly, it also gives passengers a far smoother ride, with better-quality cabin air and windows that are not only larger than on other planes, but are also electrically dimmable. Which, you’ve got to admit, is a bit cool. Airbus has clearly been riled by it: having originally planned to use aluminium for its next generation of jets, it’s now decided to use a carbon-fibre composite instead…

Boeing’s only challenge now is to produce the other 820 Dreamliners it has on order – the idea being that by 2013, it will be cranking out 10 planes a month. That’s a pretty big ask, considering delays have already cost the programme an extra $32bn. Making the Dreamliner come true has clearly been harder than even Boeing’s engineers expected. Then there’s the question of ROI: on Sunday, The Seattle Times (Boeing’s local newspaper) published a report raising questions over how long it would take for the jets to make money for Boeing, suggesting it could be ‘well into the 2020s, if ever’. Ouch.

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