Boeing 787 Dreamliner ready for maiden flight

Posted at 12/15/2009 8:34 PM | Updated as of 12/15/2009 8:35 PM

EVERETT, Washington, United States -- Fighting its way through more than two years of delays, Boeing's latest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, is scheduled to take its maiden flight Tuesday.

"We think it's a game changer because it provides so much value to the customer," Jim Albaugh, Boeing executive vice president and CEO, said in a CNN interview. "We think this is going to be a very efficient airplane. It's going to change the way people travel."

Despite the delays, Boeing's first new commercial airliner in over a decade will still be relevant, Albaugh said Monday.

"It's more environmentally friendly, it's more efficient, uses less fuel, it's going to cost the operator less to fly, it's going to allow the passengers to pay less and feel better when they land."

Boeing's claims of the Dreamliner's much-touted efficiency are tied to its design. It's the first major airliner to be made of mostly composite materials. Boeing has staked its reputation on claims that the aircraft's relatively lighter, faster body will save airlines up to 20 percent in fuel costs.

The company also says the new material will hold up better to the wear and tear of flight than traditional aluminum. Boeing says it has orders for more than 850 of the planes, which officially sell for around $150 million each.

Depending on the configuration, the Dreamliner can seat between 200 to 300 passengers and can travel more than 2,500 nautical miles. The target market is carriers traveling point-to-point international routes.

But despite the promise of a new more efficient airplane, production delays and technical problems have stolen some of the Dreamliner's luster.

Many of the delays and snags in the supply line with the first Dreamliners have been blamed on the army of partners Boeing brought in to help with the construction.

"They did too much outsourcing, too soon, with too little oversight," said Scott Hamilton of the aviation consulting firm Leeham Co. "The customers have been mightily (upset) over the creeping delays."

Albaugh conceded that "in hindsight" the large amount of outsourcing done with the 787 was not the best strategy. "There a few things we might have kept inside, yes."

Even though 787s won't start flying passenger routes until at least 2011, Boeing executives said they hope a successful first flight will at least begin to quell doubts over the future of airplane production at the company.

The test flight "is going to validate the airplane to an extent," Albaugh said. "We've got 10 months of flight tests in front of us. ... There's a lot of work to do."

For Tuesday's scheduled test flight, the Dreamliner will take off from the hanger where it was assembled in Everett, Washington, and undergo a battery of tests during a five-hour flight before landing some 40 miles away at Boeing Field just south of downtown Seattle.

"We are going to shake this airplane out to demonstrate that it can do everything we've advertised it to do," Albaugh said.