At the Paris Air Show Tuesday, as expected, Boeing launched the final and largest member of its Dreamliner jet family, the 787-10.
The jet officially entered the market with a total of 102 orders from blue-ribbon customers United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, GECAS (the airplane leasing unit of GE) and Air Lease Corp., the lessor run by longtime industry market-maker Steve Udvar-Hazy.
Udvar-Hazy ordered 30, as did Singapore. British ordered 12. GECAS ordered 10. United ordered 20, of which ten were conversions of previous orders for smaller versions of the 787. First delivery is scheduled for 2018.
In a briefing ahead of the launch, a top executive said Boeing hasn’t decided where the jet will be built.
Officials in Washington state are concerned that logistical issues around transporting the bigger plane sections to Everett and fitting the completed planes nose-to-tail on an assembly line could rule out the 787-10 for Everett, so that this largest Dreamliner would be assembled exclusively in South Carolina.
“When we’re ready to announce it, we’ll announce it,” said Scott Fancher, Boeing vice president of airplane development.
Designed to be highly fuel efficient, the stretched 787-10 will carry about 320 passengers, 40 more than the 787-9, though with a shorter range – about 8,000 miles, compared to 9,800 miles for the 787-9.
Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney at a launch ceremony at the Air Show called the 787-10 “the most efficient jetliner in history.”
The 787-10 will compete directly against the A350-900 from Airbus.
Udvar-Hazy, who has now ordered both those airplanes, said that with the range and seating difference each will serve different airline needs and “both are going to be very successful.”
But in term of pure fuel efficiency, he said, “if it’s identically configured, the (787)-10 has a little bit of an edge on the (A350)-900 per seat.”
Udvar-Hazy said the 787-10, which still has sufficient range to cover more than 90 percent of long-haul airline routes, will be a candidate to replace existing 777s and Airbus A340s.
Because the plane is longer than the 787-9, Boeing did some minor structural beefing up at different points, including the wing-fuselage attachments, and adjusted the landing gear to ensure better take-off performance.
In the briefing about Boeing’s widebody jet plans immediately before the launch announcement, Fancher was asked why Boeing cannot be definitive about the manufacturing plan, and specifically whether the 787-10 will be assembled like the other Dreamliners in both Everett and North Charleston, S.C., or only in South Carolina.
“When we’re ready to make public announcements of what we will do where, we’ll make them,” said Fancher. “It’s a big decision. We want to make the right decision for the airplane and our customers.”
Boeing may not want to commit to a manufacturing plan until it’s certain that the new North Charleston final assembly line can get up to speed on schedule. It has delivered a total of only four Dreamliners so far. Fancher said the 787 production system is flexible.
“We have a wide range of options available,” said Fancher. “The key to our decision process is going to be what that continued emphasis on rate looks like, how productivity and quality continue to mature, and then we’ll make the decision on what we do where.”