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The Dreamliner: a challenging but worthy target. The entire story - By Ahmed Haouaria

The Dreamliner: a challenging but worthy target. The entire story - By Ahmed Haouaria

05 Mars 2020

On November 1, 2011, with nearly three and a half years of delay, several years of development and billions of dollars of expenses, the first commercial flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is finally operated by the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways connecting Tokyo to Hong Kong.

Revolutionary in several respects, the Dreamliner has certain characteristics that make it unique and that should clearly pave the way for a new generation of commercial aircraft.

First, the aircraft includes 50% composite materials, including the wings and fuselage made of carbon fiber. This material, which is both more durable and lighter than aluminum, contributes to making the plane much less greedy in consuming kerosene.

Thanks to its lighter weight and more economical but also less noisy reactors, the Dreamliner also consumes 20% less fuel than a device of similar size, which allows it to cover longer distances while being less polluting.

Inside, the wide layout makes the space less oppressive and the passengers do not have the impression of being trapped in a kind of tube. A sensation accentuated by soothing bluish lighting, but also by portholes 30% larger than on the average of aircraft of this size. They are also the first in the industry to be equipped with a device that makes them opaque at the touch of a button.

Finally, always on board, the aircraft, the pressurization, and the humidity are higher than on any other plane, which makes the journey less exhausting for passengers and crews, in addition to minimizing the risks of migraine or dehydration of the eyes or mucous membranes, as is too often the case today.


A plane completely breaking with its predecessors

Designed at the time to make Boeing take off again and take a step ahead of its rival Airbus, this model is certainly a huge commercial success but has not stopped increasing the slippage on the industrial level. Back to the unique story of the Dreamliner

The green light to market the 787 was given on December 16, 2003, during a crisis for Boeing. After abandoning its Sonic Cruiser project - an airplane approaching the speed of sound studied in 2000 but quickly abandoned with the air transport crisis that followed on September 11, 2001, Boeing plays its all-out game with the 787, a long jet medium-capacity mail (210 to 290 seats depending on the version) capable of providing flights of more than 15,000 kilometers.

Four months later, on April 26, 2004, the Japanese company All Nippon Airways (ANA) ordered 50 copies. Then begins the industrial phase of the program whose cost, kept secret, was estimated at the time at more than 10 billion dollars. Boeing wants to hit hard and promises 200 firm orders by the end of the year. There will only be 56. Manufacturers are already predicting failure. Wrongly. Marketing has simply been disrupted by speculation about the Airbus response, which will eventually launch in December 2004 a derivative of its A330, dubbed the A350. It is precisely the announcement of Airbus that will take off sales

Now able to compare the two offers, the airlines will opt for the American jet. Continental Airlines signed up on December 31, 2004. The Chinese companies also, at the end of January 2005 for 60 copies, while in the spring, Northwest Airlines and Air Canada, two companies which had switched to Airbus before return to Boeing, each ordering one sixty to 787. In December of the same year, the mega order for the Australian Qantas, 115 units will close an exceptional year 2005 marked by very large contracts. Very quickly, the B787 became the biggest commercial success of an aircraft before its entry into service, a record exceeded today by the A320 Neo. The pace will not falter until 2008. Since then, with cancellations and new contracts, the order book has fluctuated between 800 to 900 aircraft.

A technological leap that aims both to optimize the costs of Airlines while meeting growing environmental requirements.

After a difficult year of launching in 2004, the 787 is acclaimed by the companies. This medium-capacity jet is unanimously considered to be a revolutionary aircraft, in total rupture with the aircraft produced so far. The key is the widespread use of composite materials. They represent 50% of the aircraft against 11% on the 777 (the previous Boeing program launched in 1992), and around 30% on the A380. Lighter and more resistant than aluminum, they contribute, according to Boeing, to reduce fuel consumption and maintenance costs respectively by 20% and 30% compared to aircraft of the same capacity in service, the B767 and A330. . An unstoppable weapon in the era of expensive petroleum and the mobilization in favor of the reduction of C02 emissions in which the two engine manufacturers General Electric and Rolls-Royce, selected on the program, greatly participate. The latter also have the merit of reducing the decibels around airports. The noise footprint will be 40% lower than that of a 747. The CEO of ANA at the time ensures that once the 50 B787s entered his fleet, they will generate 770 million euros per year.

There is also a multitude of innovations, such as the use of optical fiber, or high-dose electricity as an energy source for operating various equipment or systems. Electric systems, today in the spotlight, have the advantage of being lighter than hydraulic systems. For the first time, for example, the braking system is electric. This leads to the elimination of heavier hydraulic circuits. Ultimately, the electrical power of the B787 is almost twice as large as that of the A380 and four times more than a B767.

Refined layout conveying a sense of comfort.

In qualifying the 787 as a Dreamliner, Boeing has set the bar very high, promising passengers improved comfort. The layout of the cabin essentially depends on the marketing positioning and budget of each transporter. The ANA B787 business class chair is the same as the B777. Boeing has nevertheless worked on the elements that are common to each, the cabin architecture necessarily, the brightness, the noise ... The installation of portholes larger by almost 30% than those in force so far allows passengers in the middle of the plane to see outside, while changing the brightness of the cabin. The luggage compartments are also larger. Boeing has also focused on air quality on board and pressurization by increasing - thanks to a new water management system - the humidity level to reduce the air dryness related to altitude. But also on noise management in the cabin. The French Zodiac has notably produced a covering for the interior of the sophisticated B787 which reduces both the resonance noise and the aerodynamic noise in the aircraft. Efforts have also been made to reduce the noise from toilet flushing.

The genius of tackling the 210-300 seat market

While Airbus launched its A380 superjumbo in December 2000 to dethrone the supremacy of the B747 in the very wide-body segment, its American rival preferred to focus on medium-capacity aircraft. Boeing believes that air transport is evolving towards direct flights, without connections, using small capacity aircraft. A strategy is opposite to that of Airbus which justifies the A380 by the concentration of traffic on a few large connecting airports (hubs) and by the saturation of the latter, requiring transport more passengers by plane to absorb the increase in traffic.

A divergence of the pure facade. The two planes complement each other more than they oppose each other. All the large companies whose strategy is focused on connecting traffic own both types of aircraft. But behind this debate, Boeing especially wanted to hit hard where it was weakest at the time. It was not on medium-haul. The latest generation 737 from the mid-90s was selling well. Nor on that of very-wide-body aircraft (more than 400 seats). Boeing considered this market narrow and considered that its 747 could, if necessary, be the subject of improvement, moreover decided in 2005 with the launch of the B747-8. Even less in the long-haul segment from 300 to 380 seats. Boeing twin-engine, the 777, was gaining market share against the more fuel-efficient A340 four-engine aircraft as the price of a barrel climbed. Only the 210-300 seat segment remained where the 767 had been released from the market by the A330 in the mid-1990s. This market is juicy. It represents nearly 3,500 new aircraft over the next twenty years.

The risky challenge of outsourcing

By launching its B787, Boeing has implemented a new industrial system to respond to its difficulties of the time. The American chooses to focus on the design, sale, and assembly of aircraft, and to outsource the rest. Thus, 70% of the 787 is "outsourced" to a multitude of subcontractors who bear a large part of the development costs (and whose return on investment depends on the success of the aircraft). The A380 is only 30%. The composite assemblies of the structure are entrusted to the Americans Vought and Spirit, to the Italian Alenia, to the Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy, Kawasaki Heavy, and Fuji Heavy. The three of them build 35% of the structure.

In search of the best suppliers, Boeing also contracts with the French. Latécoère, Thales, Messier-Dowty, Messier Bugatti (both from the Safran group), Zodiac ... represent between 5% and 10% of the program, compared to 1% on the 777. Boeing France President Yves Galland brings together all Boeing partners in the Boeing French Team. All parts converge on Everett by the B747 Dreamlifter designed for conveying parts. Coordination is complex and risky. A single supplier failure can damage the whole building. This is what happened for the B787. In 2006, Boeing also sounded the alarm when Alenia and Mitsubishi encountered difficulties. The American immediately raised his research and development (R & D) expenses and dispatched hundreds of engineers to the site. After this first case, the problems encountered by subcontractors have multiplied.

October 2007, the first delay

On Sunday, July 8, 2007, in Everett, near Seattle, the B787 finally unveils its forms on the occasion of the factory release of the first copy (roll-out). A symbolic step before the first flight planned for September which should allow certification to be obtained on time and thus ensure delivery in May 2008 of the first copy to All Nippon Airways (ANA). Nine months before the first delivery, the certification process seems very short for such a new aircraft. Except that Boeing is not ready.

At the beginning of September, it was postponed towards the end of the year. The cause of this discrepancy: difficulties in assembling certain components delivered by foreign suppliers but also to install software onboard the aircraft. However, Boeing maintains the first delivery of the 787 in May 2008. Not for long. A month later, in October, the aircraft manufacturer announced a delay in its first test flight, now scheduled for late March-early April 2008, and announced a first delay in the first delivery by six months. As a reminder, it was initially planned for May 2008. A frequent delay for new aircraft programs which does not surprise the aeronautical community, nor financial analysts. The first delay of "two to six months" for the Airbus A380, at the end of May 2005, had not caused irritation either among the airlines either. No, the most astonishing thing in the announcement of this first report is elsewhere. In the still ambitious schedule of the flight test phase, prior to obtaining the certification of the aircraft: about eight months, while it took eleven for the B777 and twice as much for the A380. Boeing, therefore, has no leeway in the event of a glitch during the flight test campaign.

Boeing increases research & development budget and strengthens workforce at Everett site and at suppliers

On January 16, 2008, three months after the first delay was announced, Boeing announced a second delay of three more months. It is therefore 9 months behind the initial schedule. The main reason is still the failure of certain suppliers who send unfinished parts of the plane to Seattle. The inaugural flight is now scheduled for late June 2008 and All Nippon Airways has been assured that it will receive its first copy "in early 2009". Already the biggest commercial success in the history of aviation before its first flight (817 orders at that time), the 787 won another record, less pleasing this time: that of the longest time between the release of aircraft (July 8, 2007) and its first flight, it now stands for the 787 at almost a year.

As far as it succeeds, Boeing still does not give itself room for maneuver in the event of unforeseen events during the flight test phase. This remains unchanged from seven to eight months. Boeing announces an increase in research & development budgets and sends additional staff to its assembly site in Everett and to its suppliers. But nothing changes.

End of March 2008, while the American group is still in shock to have lost the contract for the 179 aircraft of the US Air Force, facing the EADS-Northrop Grumann couple (after dispute, Boeing will be awarded it a few years later), Boeing recognizes this time that it will have to make improvements to the central box of the B787, a major part.

Has Boeing gone too far in outsourcing the program? A few weeks after Jim McNerney, the CEO of Boeing recognizes it in an internal memo.  withoutquestioningthe fundamentalsofits strategy, Jim McNerney nevertheless envisages a different approach for the realization of future programs, the renewal of the 737 and 777 family. Clearly, bringing back to the assembly site at Everett more tasks. On April 9, 2008, Boeing announced a third delay in the program, five to eight months this time. Between 14 and 17 months behind the initial schedule. The first deliveries are now expected in the third quarter of 2009. Boeing justifies these new delays by the slower-than-expected completion of the subcontractors' work.

Boeing loses control of the program

In response, setbacks accumulate. On November 5, 2008, a fourth delay was announced. But industrial problems are still topical. New ones have even appeared. Boeing inspectors have indeed discovered that 3% of the fasteners were incorrectly mounted. They are being rectified both at the Everett site, near Seattle and at subcontractors. Boeing no longer has any control over the program. Management is unable to communicate a new schedule. At the end of December, however, he ventured to give some. He expects a first delivery in the first quarter of 2010.

At the end of June 2009, after having assured Bourget, the Paris Air Show that the B787 was going to make its first flight before the end of the month, Boeing announced a fifth delay. The first flight of the aircraft is again delayed. The American group announces that it will reinforce a lateral section of the fuselage of the plane. A fragility was noted on the part which ensures the junction of the wings and the fuselage. Again, impossible to specify a new calendar for several weeks. Qantas immediately canceled an order for 15 aircraft. A blow to the company.

At the end of August, Boeing provided details. The first delivery is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2010. A test flight is scheduled for late 2009.

At the end of October 2009, Boeing attempted to limit the damage. The group announces the construction of a second assembly line for the B787. It will be located, not on its historic site in Seattle, but in Charleston, South Carolina. Objective: To be able to start delivering B787s to this plant in the first quarter of 2012. This project has been under study for a long time. But if two years earlier, before the announcement of the first delay in the program, this second factory was intended to increase production rates to respond to the commercial success of the device, it must now make up for the lost time. And reduce the number of penalties to be paid to customers.

The race for certification is accelerating

Mid-December 2009. With almost a year and a half late, the B787 Dreamliner finally made its first test flight in Seattle. Boeing is aiming for a certification obtained between nine and twelve months to deliver the first copy to All Nippon Airways during the last quarter of 2010. The aircraft manufacturer has planned to put 6 planes online for testing. But at the end of August 2010, another hard blow. One month before the long-awaited first delivery, Boeing postpones it to the middle of the first quarter of 2011. In question this time, the British engine manufacturer Rolls Royce in trouble on the Trent 1000 engines. Four weeks earlier, a reactor exploded on the Derby test site in England, forcing the engine manufacturer to temporarily close its facilities. And it's not over. In mid-November, when Airbus was the victim of a serious incident on the A380 (an engine exploded on a Qantas aircraft), Boeing suspended its flight test campaign due to an electrical fire in aboard an aircraft in the landing phase at Loredo (Texas). Once on the tarmac, the crew had to carry out an emergency evacuation of the 42 engineers and technicians on board. In June, flights had already been suspended for a few days following problems noted on the horizontal stabilizer of the tail of the plane, manufactured by the Italian Alenia. The fire was caused by a foreign object left in an electrical cabinet (probably a tool) in which there were software, components, etc., which caused a short circuit. However, this should not have had such consequences. Because it is the whole energy distribution system, a crucial point of the plane, which is questioned. For safety, everything is redundant in an airplane. However, the failure that occurred in the first electrical cabinet spread to the second, and the device had to use the emergency electrical management to land. Boeing will then have to make the modifications on many aircraft that were already in production finalization.

Finally, certification and first delivery

August 28, 2011, finally. The B787 Dreamliner finally receives certification from the American and European aviation authorities. Its first client, the Japanese ANA, which had ordered in April 2004, will receive its first copy on September 25 with almost three and a half years of delay! The first commercial flight is operated on November 1. Less than a week later, the B787 encountered a landing gear problem. Due to an alarm specifying a problem on a hydraulic valve, the pilot was forced to land using the manual function when landing at Okayama. Another difficulty for All Nippon Airways, the Japanese company receives its first copies drop by drop, to the point of having to shift the entry into service of the aircraft on international routes. Another blow, in the fall, the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker demanded a modification of GEnX engines from General Electric, after the incidents encountered on B747-8, the second plane in addition to B787 equipped with GEnX engines. A media release still penalizing in terms of image as the Dreamliner tried to restore its image through a campaign of presentation on the five continents since the beginning of the year. 

Other technical incidents were identified at the end of the year, well before the black series observed over the past two weeks. In early December, a United B787 had to make an emergency landing due to several electrical incidents. A few days later, on December 9, the Qatar Airways 787 suffered breakdowns on the day of its delivery. Nothing unusual, however, for the aviation community. Incidents most often accompany the commissioning of new devices. Nevertheless, following incidents involving electric batteries, the American Civil Aviation Authority (FAA) has ordered the suspension of the flights of all B787s. 

First successful flight for the Boeing 787-10, the largest Dreamliner

787-10is the latest in a line of three commercially successful airliners. The Boeing 787-10 took off on Friday, March 31, 2017, in Seattle, marking the culmination of the long period of development of the Dreamliner range, which began in 2004.

The Boeing 787 version -10, with its 68 m length, is the largest of the Dreamliner. It completes a range of three aircraft already made up of the 787-8 and 787-9, whose carrying capacities vary between 240 and 290 passengers in a two-class configuration. With a capacity of 330 passengers, the 787-10 enters the high-capacity long-haul segment on which the Airbus A350-900 already operates.

The ambition is to design a revolutionary aircraft with a structure composed of 49% composite materials and systems that make greater use of electrical energy. To meet demand, three versions have been developed to carry between 240 and 330 passengers over long distances.

The Boeing 787-10 has accumulated to date 171 firm orders, including 49 for Singapore Airlines (6 in service), thirty for Etihad Airways, 25 for the leasing company ALC, 18 for EVA Air, 14 for United Airlines, therefore, 12 for British Airways or ten for Air France-KLM among others.


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