Page last updated at 23:39 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Boeing 787 Dreamliner completes its first flight

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Boeing's 787 Dreamliner takes off from Everett in Seattle

Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft has successfully completed its first test flight in the US.

The three-hour flight started from Everett, north of Seattle, and the plane landed at Boeing Field, just south of Seattle.

The 787 project had been delayed by two-and-a-half years following a series of hitches, including design problems.

Boeing has pegged its hopes to the Dreamliner, which promises to be one of the world's most fuel-efficient planes.

The two test pilots carried out a number of basic system checks, including testing the landing gear and flaps.

"The airplane responded just as we expected," said Randy Neville, one of the pilots. "It was a joy to fly."

The take off and landing was watched by several hundred Boeing employees, industry guests and aircraft enthusiasts.

BBC correspondent Rajesh Mirchandani, who was in Everett to witness the Dreamliner's first take off, said the plane had passed one "crucial milestone".

"There were cheers as the sleek jet, painted in blue and white, lifted off from a cold, damp airfield," he said.

"Afterwards some of the Boeing employees said they felt a sense of excitement and relief."

The Dreamliner, which is powered by Rolls-Royce engines designed in the UK, will now go into nine months of continuous testing, with six planes flying around the clock.

'Revolutionary project'

The Dreamliner has attracted some 840 orders from all over the globe, although some have been cancelled because of the delays.

Its popularity is partly thanks to its lightweight design. Made of carbon and titanium, it should reduce fuel consumption as well as save on maintenance costs.

ANALYSIS
Jorn Madslien
By Jorn Madslien, Business reporter, BBC News

Some 840 orders for the 787 Dreamliner makes the plane worth about $140bn (£86bn) for Boeing.

But first, the aerospace giant must get the plane ready for delivery to airlines.

Analysts warn that the maiden flight is just a step towards that goal, not a sign that everything is fine.

The 787 is already 30 months behind schedule and there could be further delay as the aircraft begins test flights and seeks federal certification

Boeing says it will deliver the plane to customers by the end of 2010. Analysts say that is a very optimistic timetable.

The design aims to make the plane nimble and able to fly long distances without refuelling.

Howard Wheeldon, a transport analyst with BGC Partners, told the BBC World Service that it was a revolutionary project which would reshape aviation.

"This is an aircraft that changes the whole basis of flying, because of the equipment onboard," he said.

"In terms of the cost of operation this is an 80% composite material aircraft, with 35 tonnes of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, so it is a light aircraft - which means it burns less fuel."

Its arch-rival, Airbus, also has a lightweight craft in development. Its A350 plane will also be made primarily from carbon-composite materials.

Airbus is also targeting a different market with its giant A380, a craft that can carry far larger numbers of passengers although it is limited to flying to those airports that are equipped for the double-decker aircraft.

Battle for the skies

The 787 was first unveiled in July 2007 and is Boeing's first all-new jet since 1995.

The newness of the Dreamliner design has meant a steep learning curve for Boeing and that, and the fact that the company ventured into wide-ranging outsourcing for the first time, has led to a raft of problems.

Early delays to the 787 project were caused by shortages of parts and the difficulties of bringing together fuselage and wing structures from Japan, Italy and elsewhere in the US.

Mr Wheeldon said: "There is a huge test programme - because everything is new. Essentially, it has to be proven, and proven again."

Exactly how much profit Boeing can expect to make from the plane is uncertain.

Analysts say the company has invested more than $10bn in the project, and will have to give some sort of compensation to customers for late planes.

How late the planes are, and how they will perform, will not be known until all the flight tests are completed.

Boeing is not the only plane-maker hit by snags though.

Earlier this month, Airbus's A400M military transport plane finally took to the skies in Spain for its first test flight after a series of delays.

Boeing has said it hopes to deliver the first plane by the end of 2010 to Japan's All Nippon Airlines.

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Inside Boeing's Dreamliner



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