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Nov 8, 2012

Next Dreamliner 787 shows signs of awakening

The latest version of the 787 Dreamliner sounds good, as it has for the last three years, but its now up airlines to commit $$$$$$$$$$


This unofficial artist impression of a 787-10 is from 2009, when 'go' was 'certain'.

There is a bitter sweet irony in news that Boeing is now allowing sales people to talk about but not actually sell the Dreamliner 787-10 variant, a jet which would be nearly as big as an Airbus A350-900 but not fly quite as far.

The bitter part is that the planned -10 might fly interference against the plan to develop a 777-X family to replace the current 777-300ER and -200LR, as well as the older -200ER models.  That ‘interference’ is entirely a matter of resources. Like Airbus, Boeing gutted its engineering and design resources at the behest of accountants in the latter part of the first decade of the century. This saved both airliner makers money in the short term, but technical talents are hard to replace once booted,  and the new reality for them is that unless they can make the jets the airlines want in terms of improved efficiency, they can’t sell them. (Gosh, who would have thought?)

Boeing can’t, according to US sources, do the 787-10 and the 777-X simultaneously.

And there is also a product overlap to the extent that the smallest proposed model of the 777-X looks like being able to fly many of the range/payload capabilities of the 787-10, but also fly further if needed.

The sweet part of the 787-10 project, should it really get up and going this time around, is that it looks on the specifications to be a supremely good deal for flying low head count 300 seat full service format services for 9-10 hours to all of China, Japan, Korea and India from all of Australia, making it highly desirable but not necessarily affordable for Qantas and Virgin Australia, as well as their Asia based competitors (and shareholders.)

It is also a jet that looks much better suited to the medium term growth prospects for the major Australian domestic routes.

In assessing the 787-10, and anything that Airbus says about the A350 program, it should be obvious by now that taking anything either manufacturer says about lighter, stronger, better airframes without qualification would be a mistake.

There is a gap between marketing and engineering. Marketing tends to overperform, while the engineering tends to underperform, because the former has no respect for the latter. It has been a very painful gap in recent years for everyone, and very damaging for manufacturer credibility.  The 787 program is at this stage a shocker, as summarised by the WSJ as but one of many such reports, and the A350 program is, surprise, running late.

Airlines are it seems coming around the view that they would like to make evidence based buying decisions, and so far, the 787-8 has struggled to get delivered, and the -9, which is said to be a huge improvement, won’t be able to prove its capabilities until 2014.  If the -10 is to be credible, the -8 has to come good, and the -9 has to be brilliant, and fly the Pacific non-stop both ways with a full payload.

Show time is such a b*tch!

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.

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One thought on “Next Dreamliner 787 shows signs of awakening

  1. keesje

    During 2005, Emirates painted 787-10 artist impressions started to appear and a year later they were in final negotiations.
    It was a rush.

    Boeing now explicitly says this aircraft is aimed at the A330-300 that sold remarkably well for similar roles.

    The 777-200ER, very successful in the previous decades, stopped selling, the backlog dried up. Boeing has to offer an airframe to at least partially fill in crucial the 300-320 seat market segment. The 777-8i apparently wasn’t received enthusiastically by the airlines and won’t be available this decade.

    Making the 787-10 both a necessary and good option to fight the A350-900 on all but the longest flights.

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