Sweet Dreams overshadow crisis: Boeing Dreamliner finally lifts off

Much needed good news during the lengthy recession: Boeing’s Dreamliner successfully took off on its first flight today, only two years behind schedule.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, as the name suggests, entails the hopes and dreams of the company. The plane, which can seat 200-300 passengers, consumes 20% less fuel than previous models and uses new lightweight carbon-based materials, replacing aluminum.

With the high price of oil, which is bound to rise long-term – given the finite world-wide oil supply – low fuel consumption is a growing concern especially in the transportation sector and the number of orders (over 850 orders by 56 cusomters so far) are far outpacing supply for the Dreamliner. But largely unforeseen technical problems and quality concerns, including weight issues, on-board computer and network security, led the company to delay the maiden flight  five times until today. Customers also wanted interchangeability between GE and Rolls-Royce engines, a feature which took time to realize.

Boeing and Airbus, the company’s European rival, both employed a worldwide sourcing strategy to try to keep costs low in their new models. However, this tactic actually resulted in higher costs, as some parts were not available on time, leading customers to cancel orders or ask for some of their money back in form of a late shipment penalty. 

So why not just produce as many parts as possible at home in the US? There is growing support for shifting some of the outsourced jobs back home, and Boeing has started doing this, but it may be too late as many contracts are binding.

Either way, test flights of the 787 will last at least a year, and if there really are no further delays, first Dreamliners are due to ship to select clients in Q4 2010. We’ll keep our fingers crossed, since lower fuel consumption could lead to lower prices for both commercial and consumer airline travel, and if the 787 is a big success, Boeing could reclaim both prestige and leadership of the industry, bolstering the US economy.