Boeing Floats Date For 787 Dreamliner Test Flight


About 60 percent of the required certification work is in the hands of the FAA and the aircraft itself is in the paint shop, but Boeing is setting expectations for first flight of the 787 Dreamliner, saying it anticipates liftoff prior to July 1. First test flights had once been expected in late 2007 with deliveries to begin in mid-2008, but with that development (and those delays) in the past, chief project engineer Michael Delaney told reporters the pace of certification has been “far superior to anything we’ve ever done before.” Prior to certification, six aircraft will be built and deployed for testing. Two will have GE engines and four will run Rolls Royce engines. Customer aircraft will likely be powered by more efficient engines developed as a joint venture by GE and Snecma of France. Flight tests should last nearly 9 months, followed soon thereafter with FAA airworthiness certification and first delivery in 2010. If times then are anything like times now, fuel conservation will be a lead element in airlines’ ability to prosper, or survive.

In recent years, fuel has surpassed labor as the number one cost for airlines. But improved aerodynamics and more efficient engines are only part of the 787’s push for market share. Until some breakthrough comes along, there’s only so much efficiency that can be gleaned from aerodynamic changes not already incorporated in today’s commercial aircraft and more efficient engines can always be swapped for less efficient ones … at least that’s the argument made by Boeing’s competitors within the 787’s market segment. And it may be so. Airlines are already working with the FAA to optimize flight paths and climb and descent patterns to reduce fuel requirements for all flights and optimize natural efficiencies. So marketing the Dreamliner these days includes further emphasis on ergonomic changes designed to appeal to passengers who may not make travel plans based on pounds per hour. According to Boeing, among the creature comforts offered by the 787 is increased cabin space that should allow nearly all humans to stand at their seat without crouching due to overhead baggage compartments … provided an airline’s spacing between the seats doesn’t force passengers to bend at the knees. For a project so publicly promoted and so long delayed, for now, the outcome remains unchanged — it’s still unknown.