Long road ahead for new 787

Now that the exhilaration of the Dreamliner’s first flight is waning, more work remains for The Boeing Co.’s 787 development team.

Tuesday’s two-years tardy first flight proved that the composite-bodied airliner can fly, but Boeing still needs to prove it can live up to the promises that have made the plane a best-seller. Boeing has orders for 865 of the twin-engine jets though the delivery of the first production plane to launch customer All Nippon Airways is still about a year away.

Here’s what lies ahead.


 • The first Dreamliner, JA001 in Boeing’s numbering scheme, will likely be grounded for about a week, said test pilot Mike Carriker, to install more electronic monitoring and testing equipment.

 • The second of the six test Dreamliners could fly as soon as next Tuesday, according to industry sources, with other members of the flight test fleet following in the next month or two. Each plane will have a specific test mission. Some will find the boundaries of the plane’s performance. Others will enter mock airline service to test if there are glitches in the way the plane’s seating, lighting, entertainment or sanitary systems work. And others will test just how successful Boeing has been in making the planes maintenance-ready and less fuel thirsty.

 • The test fleet will operate out of Boeing Field near downtown Seattle, where the test organization’s hundreds of engineers will monitor the planes’ performance and mechanics will measure wear and tear on the aircraft.

 • Noise tests are likely to be conducted at a former Air Force base Boeing owns in Glasgow, Montana. The area is free of much man-made background noises, so more accurate readings will be available of the 787’s takeoff, landing and approach noises.

 • When it comes time to conduct low temperature and icing tests next summer, the northern hemisphere might be too warm, said Carriker. It’s likely test aircraft will fly to South America, where it will be winter.

 • The planes will visit airports around the world to ensure that the navigation equipment and the ground servicing equipment at those airports are compatible with the plane.

 • If the testing goes as expected, the FAA will certify the 787 for airline service in late summer or early fall. Foreign certification agencies will likely follow the FAA’s lead.


 • Boeing faces the considerable task of getting its production system up to speed. Initially, the company targeted a three-day final assembly process for each plane. But difficulty with some of its production partners has meant only eight planes have been finished in more than two years. Boeing still is targeting that three-day assembly, said Boeing spokeswoman Mary Hanson, but it will gradually have to ramp up the speed.

 • The company will be building two new production lines, one a temporary “surge” production line in Everett that will duplicate the original production line, and an all-new production line in North Charleston, S.C. Skeptics think building two new production lines while getting the original one up to target speed might strain Boeing’s capabilities. Boeing thinks that it will all work fine.


If all this work is not enough, Boeing must soon begin deciding how to update two of its cash cows, the 737 single-aisle jet and the long-range 777. Both are being threatened by new entrants to the field.

The 777 is being challenged on the low end of its size range by Airbus’ A350 XWB. The 737 is rivaled by new single aisle jets from Canada, China and Russia. Brazil’s Embraer might also enlarge its existing range of jets to steal 737 and Airbus A319 sales.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663