Boeing's 787 Dreamliner master plan: Create a family of them

Boeing delivered its first 787 Dreamliner to All Nippon Airways (ANA) and now that delays, supply chain problems and  implementation hurdles are over, the composite aircraft can be a platform for the future.

According to Boeing, the strategy is to create a family of composite Dreamliners in the years after this week's first delivery. The Dreamliner, which was first unveiled in 2007 and later hit by delays, features composite materials, advanced aerodynamics and better fuel efficiency.

CEO James McNerney has put delays and implementation problems with the 787 Dreamliner behind him. After all, innovation sometimes rides shotgun with failure. "The implementation was poor, but the story of the 787 is innovation. And if your game is innovation you have more room for failure," said McNerney, speaking last week at IBM's Think conference. McNerney was referencing numerous 787 delays and how the trouble was worth it.

It remains to be seen if McNerney's room for failure theory plays out on the profit front, but so far Boeing appears to have a roadmap for success. If the 787 becomes the platform for decades to come, few will remember the delays of the last few years.

Also: Boeing: With 787 almost ready, it's time to harvest R&D efforts | CNET: Boeing 787 Dreamliner: T minus 1 day to handoff | The hard lessons of Boeing's 787 outsourcing | Boeing's 787 Dreamliner: Simply too complex?

ANA is expected to take delivery of 12 of the new jetliners by the end of March 2012 and another eight Dreamliners in its next fiscal year.

So what's the plan? Speaking at a Deutsche Bank conference earlier this month, Nicole Piasecki, vice president of business development for Boeing's commercial airplane unit, said a family of Dreamliners is planned. Now that the composite materials and manufacturing techniques are down, Boeing will offer various Dreamliners based on capacity, seats and other specifications. She said:

The 787-9, the next 787 family member, is in development now for delivery at the end of 2013. That is our current target. And that airplane goes through critical program review this month, in fact. So that development is right in the middle, building off of the loads and the flight test data from the 787-8.

A 787-10X with about 320 seats is also planned. "We've got an incredible technology advantage which we want to continue to build on," said Piasecki.

Gallery: 787 Dreamliner prepares for launch

She added:

The 787-10X range capability will be about 6800 nautical miles. So it will sit there; again, its strength is economics. The 787-9 and -8 in the 8,000 nautical mile range -- 7500 to 8,000 nautical mile range. So, again, it gives the airline customer the ability, in today's highly volatile fuel environment, to really match the airplane to their network and optimize their efficiency.

Now all Boeing has to do is ramp its supply chain and logistics. Jefferies analyst Howard Rubel said:

Achieving its production goals over the next several years has been identified as a substantial challenge, but the risks to getting to rate are more known than unknown. We expect the next production rate increase to take place in the fourth quarter of 2011, and a step-up of one plane per month to 3.5 to occur in the first half of 2012. The acceleration in rate cannot fully come about until the final engineering changes related to certification of the plane are incorporated into the supply chain. We continue to believe that the company can exit 2012 at a rate of about 5 per month. Work on aircraft 47 seems to be progressing well, with a good condition of assembly. The stand-up of the South Carolina plant appears to be ahead of plan as well.

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