Boeing Readies Dreamliner for First Flight

787 Dreamliner will have maiden flight on June 30

Boeing is readying its 787 Dreamliner for first test flight in the coming days, banking on the new fuel-efficient plane to sail above stiff market headwinds.

Boeing expects the much-delayed Dreamliner to have its maiden flight by June 30 on a schedule that puts delivery of the plane to first customer, All Nippon Airways (ANA), in the first quarter of 2010.

Nearly two years behind the initial schedule, the company has delayed the Dreamliner's first flight four times since launching the program in 2004 because of production problems.

The Chicago-based company announced on June 17 final assembly had begun on the first aircraft destined for ANA, which has ordered 50 Dreamliners. "This is a great day for the 787 team," Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the Dreamliner program, said. "In 2004, ANA demonstrated great faith in Boeing and the 787 by placing the largest launch order for any new airplane in Boeing history."

Boeing has built six Dreamliners that will be used in the flight-test program to assure the plane's safety for the company and for regulators, including the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign authorities, Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, said.

Boeing says it has 865 orders from 56 airlines for the cutting-edge plane, claiming it is the "fastest-selling all-new jetliner in aviation history."

The 787 Dreamliner is the company's first new model in more than a decade and features 50% plastic composites, compared with 12% on its 777s, helping lower fuel consumption.

According to Boeing, the 787 will use 20% less fuel than similarly sized airplanes, reducing emissions by a similar amount.

The launch of the new plane comes amid turbulence in the aviation industry as the global economy slumps in the worst economic crisis in decades. A plunge in passenger air travel has led to massive cancellations and deferrals of aircraft orders. The International Air Transport Association projects that passenger traffic will fall 8% this year and airlines could lose $9 billion, almost double the estimate three months ago. That would be on top of $10.4 billion lost in 2008, according to IATA.

Boeing earlier this month lowered its outlook for the world commercial airplane market over the next two decades because of the global economic downturn, slumping air traffic and volatile fuel prices. But it forecast the growing Asia Pacific region will lead the commercial airplane market in both units and value. Japanese carriers buy almost exclusively Boeing, which is keeping a close eye on arch rival Airbus. The France-based manufacturer, a unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, has begun working on a new long-range A350 plane aimed at competing with the Dreamliner, expected to fly in mid-2013.

Boeing's financial losses have shaken investor confidence and the company has announced 10,000 job cuts for 2009, including 4,500 in the commercial aircraft division.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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