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United goes long with its first Dreamliner 787-9

Carrier is the first in North America to get the bigger version of Boeing's Dreamliner. Next month, it will start flying the world's longest Dreamliner route.

United's first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Later this month, the airline will become the first North American carrier to fly both the 787-9 and the 787-8. Boeing

For fans of Boeing's Dreamliner airplanes, United Airlines is becoming the friendliest skies.

Boeing and United said Thursday the carrier will become the first North American airline to operate both the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner and its new, longer sister plane, the 787-9. United took delivery of its first 787-9 on Wednesday, and will begin flying passengers on it later this month.

United said earlier this year it plans to use the 787-9 on what will become the longest Dreamliner route, a regular nonstop flight between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia. That service is set to start Oct. 26. Later this month, the plane will be used for flights primarily between Houston and Los Angeles, the airline said. United already operates 11 Dreamliners, and has 54 more on order.

In July, Boeing showed off the 787-9, at the Farnborough Air Show in England, hoping to drum up more customers. Already, Boeing has customer orders for 409 of the 787-9 jets, but it only delivered its first, to Air New Zealand, in July.

The 787-9 is 20 feet longer and flies up to 40 more passengers than the 186-foot-long 787-8. Both planes, and the forthcoming 787-10, which is expected to make its first flight in 2017, use 20 percent less fuel and produce 20 percent less emissions, than other, similarly sized planes.

The Dreamliner program has caused Boeing no end of headaches, given its long history of mechanical problems, onboard fires, worker strikes, supply chain interruptions, and other issues. But it is still considered a leap forward in aviation, largely because it's made with lighter composite materials instead of aluminum.

Boeing has said 60 customers have ordered more than 1,000 Dreamliners, for a total value of more than $240 billion. Despite the many problems the program has dealt with, including having the entire fleet grounded by the US Federal Aviation Administration in January 2013, the Dreamliner is "the most successful twin-aisle launch of a new commercial airplane in Boeing's history," the company has said.

Both the 787-8 and 787-9 have a range of 7,850 nautical miles. The 787-8 carries up to 242 passengers, while the 787-9 holds up to 280 passengers. By comparison, Airbus' direct competitor to the 787 line, the A350, can fly between 276 and 369 passengers and between 7,750 and 8,250 nautical miles, depending on the model. Airbus has received 742 orders for A350s, though it has yet to deliver the plane to customers. The A350 made its first flight a year ago.