29 AUGUST 2011
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Further down in this issue readers will note that Boeing has finally certificated the 787 Dreamliner, and as they say “better late than never”. Congratulations are needed in putting together one of the most sophisticated engineering projects of all time. There have been some high profile casualties amongst the Seattle hierarchy along the way, namely Mike Blair, the launch project leader, and Scott Carson, a super salesman, responsible for perhaps half of the firm sales to date. Blair is now Vice President Advanced 737 Product Development at Boeing, whilst Carlson has retired.
It is interesting to note that Boeing took six years to develop the 707 from concept to airline introduction, much of the engineering ‘borrowed’ from parallel military ventures. The 787 is vastly more complicated and is essentially a stand-alone project. Back in the 1950s Boeing had serious competition from Convair and Douglas in the US and de Havilland and Vickers in the UK, plus the huge resources of the Russian aerospace industry to contend with. Now it is just Airbus, a formidable competitor. Times change.
One can say that the 787 was delayed, but there is just as strong an argument that the aircraft is not late and that the design and build programme put to the Boeing board was far too optimistic. Never before has such an ambitious programme been put together, not just an advanced aircraft, but a ‘plane with parts designed and built all around the world.
Looking back, and it is very easy to work in retrospect, was Boeing correct to roll out what was nothing more than a huge ‘plastic’ model at Everett Washington State in August 2007? Should they have been more honest with the airline customers, and their own staff.
ANA were the first airline to commit to the 787. Readers with long memories might recall that the Japanese airline was also the lead carrier for the Lockheed Tristar whose introduction was a disaster and bankrupted engine supplier Rolls-Royce. Perhaps someone should have whispered that story to the ANA President in 2004.
The good news is that the Tristar turned out to be a success for the Japanese airline despite the initial misgivings and Rolls-Royce has never been stronger.
The 787 package seems right. No major airline has cancelled its order in spite of the much publicised delays. OK Boeing will not have achieved the target of 1,000 firm orders by the date of first delivery, but 800+ is terrific news by anyone’s standard. The Dreamliner still leads the rival Airbus A350 XWB by some way in terms of orders and it remains to be seen how much the delay is with the latest Toulouse wonder plane.
In 50 years’ time, when 787s will still be flying on the airways of the world, its difficult gestation would have been long forgotten. Now let’s try it out and see if it comes up to expectations.
Editor in Chief
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