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May 24, 2024
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Today marks the seventh anniversary of the 787 roll out.  B787_roll_outIt was a very exciting day – the 787 was going to be the airplane that set the pace for the industry. It had tremendous new technologies.

The airframe was made from carbon fiber, making it lighter. The aircraft was expected to cut fuel burn compared with the 767-300 by 20%.  In addition it was bringing an era of electrically driven flight systems rather than using bleed air.

Looking back it was an amazing day – 677 back orders at roll out.  The 787 was a real trail blazer.  How is the program doing seven years on?

2014-07-08_14-50-31The initial interest in the aircraft was near magical.  Orders piled up – Boeing proudly pointed out that it was the fastest ordered aircraft ever.  With rising fuel costs, the 787’s promise was perfectly timed.   The ext chart shows how the orders ran far ahead of Boeing’s ability to deliver the airplane.  Boeing discovered issue after issue with the aircraft.  Its supply chain struggled and this meant parts being delivered to Everett with a lot of unfinished (traveled) work.   Delays were announced and the program seemed to slip.  After a fourth delay, 787 deliveries were running 15 months late.  Then  came a fifth delay followed by a strike.  It was a miserable time.

2014-07-08_14-53-49On December 15 2009, the 787 had its first flight.  During flight tests more challenges emerged.  A Rolls-Royce engine problem delayed launch customer ANA’s delivery further.  Then came an electrical fire during a test flight.   In July 2011 ANA started its flight tests and in October 2011 the 787 did its first commercial flight.  Boeing meanwhile struggled to get 787s partially completed ready for delivery.  Then came two battery fires on JAL and ANA aircraft.   It was not an easy project, but Boeing worked through the issues.  Difficult customers did not help – Air India went public with its compensation demands and had numerous challenges with its 787s.  Bringing Indian government officials into the conversation did not tone down the invective either.

But as the chart shows, although only three aircraft were delivered in 2011, Boeing picked up the pace and delivered 46 in 2012 and 65 in 2013.  Through June 2014 it had delivered 48 and it is possible Boeing could deliver close to 100 by year end.   Boeing has managed to deploy lessons from the 787-8 project into the 787-9.  The newer model has seen an uneventful flight test program.  The newer model is also far more weight efficient at EIS than the 787-8 was.

The apprenticeship was tough.  Boeing lost or moved some its most talented mangers as the 787 program evolved through its stages of overcoming a series of missteps.

Looking forward the chart below illustrates how 787 orders are playing out.  After the first five years, in 2008, the 787-8 was the most popular model by far.  By year end 2013, the newer models are starting to eclipse the 787-8.  Boeing is starting to hit its stride now as the 787 program settles into a rhythm looking at 12 per month produced  by 2016 with plans to grow this to 14.  2014-07-08_15-18-13The last seven years have been a period of anxiety and frustration at Boeing.  The promise of the 787 continues to make it attractive and airlines will be buying the aircraft for many years.  The lessons Boeing learned from the ambitious 787 project will resonate for a long time.

5 thoughts on “Boeing’s 787 – Seven Years After Roll Out

  1. It was indeed a “trial blazer”, more than a trail blazer. 😉 An interesting lapsus!

  2. A great aircraft but poor execution led to a large delay in EIS. This led to Airbus having a green light to sell A330’s with no other comparable aircraft from Boeing that could be delivered in a reasonable time. Had the 787 been close to the planned EIS date, it would have meant many less A330 orders and the A330NEO would be a non issue.
    If Boeing can ramp up production of both 787-8 & 787-9 models and expedite the 787-10, it will help keep Boeing ahead in the wide body sales race along with the 777 series.
    This was a tough lesson for Boeing to learn with the 787 project and I hope these lessons were not in vain.

  3. The A330NEO is still an option due to the lower production costs and hence a far lower price compared to the 787. Very few airlines need the total range of the 787 and many are more than satisfied with todays A330’s range. The A330 is smaller than the A350. The A330NEO is the same to the 787-8/9 as the 777-8X is to the A350-900. The big difference is Boeing needs a new wing for the 777X.

  4. The 787-9 is a simple stretch so there should have been zero issues. Being late to the game it got the first improvements in weight loss but those are rolled into the -8 to.

  5. Actually, Strike and RR engine hickup contributed _zero_ to 787 delays.
    Then Boeing sold about half their orderbook at rock bottom prices.
    ( Calculated problably on cost advantages that will never materialize.)

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