It may seem mere detail to some, but a reference to a redesigned landing gear bay by Boeing when it announced the final basic configuration overnight for the 787-9 is significant.

Some observers are seeing it is a clear hint that an even larger Dreamliner, a -10, is back in Boeing’s thinking, while others think that whether or not it points to a -10, it indicates planning for improved versions of the -9 and the initial -8 model, which is in flight testing.

The stretched and significantly improved 787-9 in the official Boeing graphic
The stretched and significantly improved 787-9 in the official Boeing graphics

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All Boeing has said, so far, is that the changes are to ‘provide more room’. Which means a stronger main gear, the prerequisite for higher gross weight versions of Dreamliners in any payload/range category, including a re-worked ultra-long range -8 of less than 100 seats capacity to a medium range -10 with close to 400 seats.

The Boeing announcement says:

“Firm configuration means the airplane’s structural, propulsion and systems architectures are defined and not changing,” said Mark Jenks, vice president of 787-9 development, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Boeing has completed the trade studies required to finalise the airplane’s overall capability and basic design, allowing the airplane manufacturer and its suppliers to begin detailed design of parts, assemblies and other systems for the 787-9. As detailed designs are completed and released, production can begin. The first 787-9 delivery is scheduled for late 2013.
“We have a disciplined process in place to ensure we have completed all of the requirements for the development stage of the program,” said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The team has done a fantastic job to get us through this important milestone.”
The 787-9 is the second member of the 787 family. A slightly bigger version of the 787-8, the aircraft will seat 250-290 passengers, 16 percent more than the 787-8. The 787-9 will have a range of 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles (14,800 to 15,750km).

There are several interesting details in the Boeing statement. One is the use of low seat count numbers, which imply the spacious eight across economy seating the most 787 customers aren’t interested in apart from Continental and British Airways.

Not that there is anything wrong with roomier seating. But the hard heads in most airlines today want to cram in as many seats as they can, including Qantas, which has referred to nine across economy seating for its 787s, which are 25 787-9s for Jetstar and 25 787-8s but perhaps including some -9s for Qantas.

The long range capabilities announced, actually re-announced, for the -9 are essential for their intended use by Jetstar to develop new international routes for the Qantas group, or reclaim others from which it has withdrawn, surrendering them to the likes of Singapore Airlines, Thai International and Emirates.

Sources in Qantas concede that it will not get its first -9s for Jetstar until sometime in 2014, with Air New Zealand being the launch customer for the type with first deliveries late in 2013. But Qantas is still looking for opportunities to also obtain 787-8s sooner, provided they are not handicapped by the weight penalties affecting the very early production units.

Has the Dreamliner project started to fly into smoother skies? Perhaps. There are
doubts about the certification process, and Boeing hasn’t yet recovered from the self-inflicted credibility injuries that preceded and accompanied the delays and problems that arose in a jet which should have flown well before the end of 2007 and been in service before the middle of 2008.

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