The first flight of the Boeing 787-9, the newest member of Boeing’s 787 family, is coming soon. And it will have greater implications than normal for a “minor model variant,” said an industry expert.
The first flight of the 787-9 Dreamliner, a stretch version of the 787-8, would typically be of little consequence, said Scott Hamilton, an industry consultant and managing director of Leeham Co.
But the flight will have greater scrutiny than it would otherwise because of the “painful birth of the lead variant, the 787-8 and its troubled early service that included a 3.5-month grounding,” Hamilton wrote in a newsletter.
Boeing made significant changes to the 787-9 based on lessons learned from the 787-8.
Those included modifications to a reported 30 percent of the design and changes to the design and production of the tail, the side-of-body wing join and elements of the wing’s internal structure. Changes also were made to some electronics and to the lithium ion batteries that led to the grounding of all 50 787-8 Dreamliners in service in early 2013, Hamilton wrote.
Spirit AeroSystems builds the nose section for both versions of the 787.
The 787-9 is 20 feet longer than the 787-8, carries 40 more passengers and flies an additional 300 nautical miles.
Boeing rolled the first 787-9 out of the factory to its flight line in August.
First delivery to Air New Zealand, the launch customer for the 787-9, is scheduled for mid-2014.
Dispatch reliability also remains a challenge for the 787-8s, “hovering around 98 percent.” Boeing wants to see it closer to 99.7 percent, the standard set by the 737 NG and the 777, Hamilton said.
That may not sound like a lot of difference, but it means a lot to the airlines, he said.
Boeing is quick to compare the 99.7 percent dispatch rate for its 737 NG single-aisle airplane to the 99.4 percent for the rival Airbus A320, he wrote.
“The lessons learned, incorporated into the 787-9, will be watched as a path toward this reliability target,” Hamilton said.
Expectations are high for the 787-9.
“We hear the first plane emerged from the factory pretty ‘clean,’ that is without the troubles that bedeviled the -8,” Hamilton wrote. “Let’s hope the flight test program comes off without a hitch.”
Boeing also is planning another variant of the 787, a larger 787-10.