Boeing's first delivered 787 Dreamliner has taken flight. The jet, sold to All Nippon Airways, took off from Boeing's manufacturing facility on Tuesday, heading for Japan for use in commercial air travel by the airline.
Many industry observers expect Boeing's Dreamliner to revolutionize commercial flight. By all indications, the plane will. But it didn't come easy for Boeing, as the project encountered three years of delay and costs have exceeded, according to one estimate, $32 billion.
Still, while years of planning and billions in costs were shed, Boeing has itself a winner with the 787 Dreamliner. Here are five reasons Boeing's big bet will pay off:
1) Customer experience is unequaled. There's an interesting phenomenon that occurred in air travel from the heyday of the 1960s, when jet travel was viewed as sexy to today, where it's viewed as cramped drudgery. Airports around the world have gotten bigger, more comfortable and sleeker, while planes have barely changed at all.
If anything, the travel experience by jet has become more crowded and less dynamic. But Boeing's Dreamliner aims to change all that. And by all accounts, it will.
In designing the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing relied upon a decade of research by psychologists and architects to improve passenger comfort and experience. Boeing said the template will be a baseline for all future airplanes. The result is bigger windows with dimming glass to replace shades, bigger seats, larger luggage bins, adjustable lighting (dimmer or brighter), and more.
Simply, it's loaded with wow factor for customers and a platform that Boeing will continue to develop into the future. So while planes haven't changed much over the years -- that trend just came to a halt when Boeing delivered the first Dreamliner. Customer experience in air will be en vogue in the years to come, particularly for overseas travel, and Boeing just set that bar -- and set it high.
2) Less jet lag. The weary traveler is an issue on all jet flights, particularly because of cabin pressure. With less humidity, required in aluminum airframes, passengers get a sort of flight hangover. But Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has a composite airframe that allows for a more comfortable cabin pressure -- the equivalent, engineers say, of 6,000 feet of cabin altitude instead of the common 8,000 feet.
The plane's composite make-up means more humidity in the cabin as well, which Boeing officials say will reduce traveler symptoms related to dryness from typical altitude traveling. Thus, travelers in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner should have less jet lag -- a big benefit for overseas flights.
3) Fuel efficiency. Among the biggest challenges facing flying customers and airline companies in the coming years will be fuel costs, particularly on long-range flights. For established airlines, perhaps no factor impacts ticket price and profitability more than fuel costs, which are expected to rise in the coming years.
Certainly, ticket prices initially on 787 Dreamliner flights won't be less expensive. If anything, they will likely be more expensive at first, since travelers will want the experience. The first airlines to get in on the act, like ANA, will have a premium pricing advantage. But once Boeing makes good on its 800 units ordered over the next several years and the Dreamliner becomes a standard, the plane's fuel efficiency should make a difference on long-haul flights for both passengers and the airlines.
Boeing makes the Dreamliner from advanced lightweight composite materials developed by outsourced partners from around the world. Also, Boeing says the Dreamliner features a high-tech plastic fuselage. These components make the plane lighter than planes it will replace in airline fleets, enhancing fuel efficiency rather dramatically -- benefit that will only be enhanced as Boeing sharpens the design, getting more weight out in the coming years.
In all, the Dreamliner 787, powered with a new Rolls Royce engine, is designed to be 20 percent cheaper to operate than comparable sized jets. It matters now, and in the future, it will matter more.
4) The kinks and cost will come out. The biggest of big-bet product launches, Boeing spent an estimated $32 billion on designing and manufacturing the 787 Dreamliner and took three years longer than expected to get the first one delivered. But Boeing understood that getting it right matters most -- since the company isn't planning to launch another new plane until the next decade.
But the kinks and the costs were heavy in just getting the first one out of the door. As production ramps up to 10 787 Dreamliners a month until the end of 2013, faster than any jet manufacturer has made a plane of scope, Boeing will puts its signature lean manufacturing experience to work.
Costs will be pulled out, and efficiencies will be put in. There's a lot of work to do, of course, but this is where Boeing is at its best, manufacturing quality through continuous improvement.
Boeing already has orders for some 800 units, the company says, and we can expect that long before than number is reached Boeing will have the cost and process for making 787 Dreamliners effectively down.
5) American-made. Who says we don't make things in America any more? Well how about this: Boeing now makes the world's most innovative and effective jet, produced at home in the good ol' U.S.A.
Boeing hopes the Dreamliner, its first new jet launched in 16 years, will help the American company reclaim the top spot in industry sales lost to Airbus' SAS in 2003. By all accounts, Boeing has a winner -- which translates into a winner for America considering Airbus is a European company, based in France.
For an American economy that's been struggling to keep manufacturing at home in the flattened world global economy, the Dreamliner might as well be draped with an American flag, the jet's success is so vital to the domestic economy. Sure, it's a global product, as Boeing reached out through outsourcing all over the globe.
But at the end of the day, it's all American. And that matters.