法新社╱F08郭美瑜 2009-06-22 01:35
Boeing readies Dreamliner for first flight
by Veronica Smith Veronica Smith – Sun Jun 21, 1:14 pm ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US aerospace giant Boeing is readying its 787 Dreamliner for first test flight in the coming days, banking on the new fuel-efficient plane to sail above stiff market headwinds.
Boeing expects the much-delayed Dreamliner to have its maiden flight by June 30 on a schedule that puts delivery of the plane to first customer, All Nippon Airways (ANA), in the first quarter of 2010.
"We're very much looking forward to seeing our airplane take to the skies," Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, said in a phone interview with AFP Friday.
No specific date has been announced for the flight.
Nearly two years behind the initial schedule, the company has delayed the Dreamliner's first flight four times since launching the program in 2004 because of production problems.
The Chicago-based company announced Wednesday final assembly had begun on the first aircraft destined for ANA, which has ordered 50 Dreamliners.
"This is a great day for the 787 team," Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the Dreamliner program, said in a statement.
"In 2004, ANA demonstrated great faith in Boeing and the 787 by placing the largest launch order for any new airplane in Boeing history."
Boeing has built six Dreamliners that will be used in the flight-test program to assure the plane's safety for the company and for regulators, including the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign authorities, Birtel said.
"The main mantra is safety," he said.
Boeing says it has 865 orders from 56 airlines for the cutting-edge plane, claiming it is the "fastest-selling all-new jetliner in aviation history."
The 787 Dreamliner is the company's first new model in more than a decade and features 50 percent plastic composites, compared with 12 percent on its 777s, helping lower fuel consumption.
According to Boeing, the 787 will use 20 percent less fuel than similarly sized airplanes, reducing emissions by a similar amount.
Plagued by problems from a complex international production system and a two-month machinists strike last year, the Dreamliner's delays have irked customers and resulted in order cancellations.
The latest delay, announced last December, postponed first flight into the second quarter of 2009, from the fourth quarter of 2008. Launch customer ANA complained about the new delay for first delivery of the plane which initially was set for the third quarter of 2009.
In January, Russian carrier S7 Airlines announced the cancellation of an order for 15 Dreamliners. The next month Boeing said that Dubai-based aircraft leasing company LCAL had cancelled 16 of the 21 planes ordered.
The launch of the new plane comes amid turbulence in the aviation industry as the global economy slumps in the worst economic crisis in decades.
A plunge in passenger air travel has led to massive cancellations and deferrals of aircraft orders.
The International Air Transport Association projects that passenger traffic will fall eight percent this year and airlines could lose nine billion dollars, almost double the estimate three months ago.
That would be on top of 10.4 billion dollars lost in 2008, according to IATA.
Boeing earlier this month lowered its outlook for the world commercial airplane market over the next two decades because of the global economic downturn, slumping air traffic and volatile fuel prices.
But it forecast the growing Asia Pacific region will lead the commercial airplane market in both units and value.
Japanese carriers buy almost exclusively from the US aerospace giant, which is keeping a close eye on arch rival Airbus.
The France-based manufacturer, a unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, has begun working on a new long-range A350 plane aimed at competing with the Dreamliner, expected to fly in mid-2013.
Boeing's financial losses have shaken investor confidence and the company has announced 10,000 job cuts for 2009, including 4,500 in the commercial aircraft division.