Executives with All Nippon Airways, the first airline to fly Boeing Co.'s new 787, think that the aircraft maker faces production challenges,but they are doing what they can to get their plane on time next May.
"We know it's not easy to make that deadline. However, we will support Boeing, and we will work with them so that the deadline can be met," Osamu Shinobe, executive vice president of corporate planning for All Nippon Airways Co., said Sunday at a downtown hotel, hours before Boeing was to unveil the first of its 787 Dreamliners at the company's widebody assembly plant in Everett.
Airlines, leasing companies and other plane buyers have ordered more than 600 Dreamliners over the last few years, eager to hold Boeing to its promise that the midsize, long-haul jet will burn less fuel, be cheaper to maintain and offer more passenger comforts than comparable planes flying today.
The 787, Boeing's first all-new jet since airlines started flying the 777 in 1995, will be the world's first large commercial airplane made mostly of carbon-fiber composites, which are lighter, more durable and less prone to corrosion than aluminum.
Final assembly of first 787 started in late May, after a gigantic, specially outfitted superfreighter started flying wings, fuselage sections and other major parts to Boeing's widebody plant, where they essentially get snapped together piece by huge piece.
Once production hits full speed, the company expects each plane to spend just three days in final assembly, but this time, Boeing workers spent several weeks installing electrical wiring and other innards that suppliers will eventually stuff into their sections of the plane before they're delivered to the assembly plant.
Boeing decided to handle that work in-house for the first few planes rather than risk any production delays.
Despite a few snags the company says it anticipated - including an industrywide shortage of fasteners brought on by a surge in demand for new jets in recent years - Boeing officials say nothing so far has threatened to bump the 787 behind schedule.
The first test flight is expected to take place between late August and late September. The plane is set to enter commercial service next May after Japan's All Nippon Airways receives the first of its 50 Dreamliners.
The 787 debuting Sunday will serve as the first of six flight test airplanes, while two other planes will be used for static and fatigue tests. The ninth plane off the assembly line will be the first one delivered to All Nippon Airways.
Boeing hired former NBC "Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw to serve as master of ceremonies for the Sunday afternoon 787 premiere, which the company is broadcasting live on the Internet and on satellite television in nine languages to more than 45 countries.
Boeing has estimated that roughly 15,000 people will attend the premiere at the plant where the 787 and other widebody planes are assembled.
The company invited thousands of its employees and retirees to watch via satellite at the NFL stadium where the Seattle Seahawks play, and it is hosting viewing parties for 787 customers and suppliers in dozens of other locations around the globe.
To date, Boeing has won 677 orders for the 787, selling out delivery positions through 2015, two years after rival Airbus SAS expects to roll out its competing A350 XWB.
List prices for the 787 begin at $146 million (107.38 million EUR), although customers typically negotiate discounts.
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