Boeing's 787 Dreamliner set for first commercial flight

If all goes according to plan, the first 787 Dreamliner passengers will board an All Nippon Airways flight next Wednesday from Tokyo to Hong Kong. The flight would finally put to rest the troubled legacy of the all-new airplane.

Hundreds of Boeing employees and partners escorted a 787 Dreamliner toward the center of the celebration for the aviation giant's handover of the first one of the next-generation airplanes last month. The first Dreamliner is scheduled to make its initial commercial flight next Wednesday. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

After years of delays, and several months of preparations, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is about to make its first commercial flight.

If all goes according to plan, All Nippon Airways--the first Dreamliner customer--will initiate 787 service next Wednesday on a regularly scheduled flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong, USA Today reported Friday.

The flight is planned to take place a month to the day after Boeing handed over the first Dreamliner to ANA at a rain-soaked but gala celebration at the aviation giant's mammoth Everett, Wash., assembly facility.

Though the handoff was probably the most important event in the Dreamliner's long and troubled history, the first commercial flight is likely to be heralded by many aviation observers as final proof of the viability of the innovative plane--which is made largely from composite materials, and which is said to be among the most energy efficient passenger planes ever to take to the skies.

The 787 is meant to offer Boeing airline customers up to 20 percent fuel savings over other passenger jets, largely because about half of its primary structure, including its fuselage and wings, are made from composite materials. Yet it travels at the same speed, Mach 0.85, as other wide-body planes. And it incorporates the latest aviation technologies including an on-board health-monitoring system that enables the Dreamliner to monitor itself and automatically send in maintenance reports to ground-based computer systems.

But the Dreamliner is years behind schedule. Initially shown to the public on July 8, 2007 (07/08/07), the aircraft has suffered through a long series of very high-profile delays .

The Dreamliner program's problems began in September 2007, when Boeing postponed the first flight for a month owing to "ongoing challenges with out-of-sequence production work, including parts shortages, and remaining software and systems integration activities." Then, just a month later, the aviation giant said it would slow down the program, for at least six months, "due to continued challenges completing assembly of the first airplanes." A few months later, the first flight was again pushed back because of a series of supply chain problems.

The delays didn't end there. Next up was a 57-day machinists strike, which ended in November 2008 but which also caused new supply shortages. There were new problems with assembly. And then in June 2009, Boeing announced a new set of delays "due to a need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft," it said at the time.

Even after the Dreamliner's first flight in December 2009, there were still fresh issues to contend with. In August 2010, India's National Aviation Co., which operates Air India, said it was demanding $840 million in compensation from Boeing because of the delays. For its part, Boeing said then that it was involved in negotiations with various carriers over delay-oriented costs. And then, in November 2010, came the most high-profile complication of all--an on-board electrical fire in a control panel.

But now those problems appear to be behind Boeing. If all goes according to plan, the Dreamliner will finally be graduating into the ranks of planes that passengers can actually fly on, and it will no longer be just an aircraft with undelivered promise.

 

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