But Potential Problems Lie Ahead
From recent news reports, you might think Boeing can do no wrong
as Airbus continues to stumble. But that's not necessarily the
case. In fact, many of the teething problems that have plagued the
A380 may still await Boeing's upcoming 787 Dreamliner, as the
company prepares to build its first test aircraft.
Until now, the Dreamliner has existed primarily the minds
and computers of engineers assigned to the project... and turning
those images into reality may yet prove difficult.
"Every time we do a new airplane we essentially bet the company
to some extent," said Scott Carson, head of Boeing's commercial
airplane division, to the Washington Post. "When you are placing
that kind of bet, you want to get it right. You have to get
No other commercial airliner has been built the way Boeing plans
to produce the 787 -- at least, not on the same scope. Instead of
building the plane in-house, for example, Boeing is allowing
outside contractors -- many of them overseas -- to design and build
70 percent of the aircraft.
The wings will come from Japan, for example, while composite
fuselage barrel segments will be flown over from Italy. A Chinese
company is building rudders for the plane; France is producing the
787's landing gear. The components will be assembled at Boeing's
Everett, WA facility.
That's an impressive sign of the global nature of today's
economy... but that also leaves a lot of room for potential
problems. Airbus took a similar tack when building the mammoth A380
superjumbo, for example, and that plane is now suffering its third
"This program is probably the most complicated thing that
[Boeing] commercial airplanes has ever done," said 787 program
manager Mike Bair. "From a commercial airplane structure point
of view, this is going from cloth and wood to aluminum."
Boeing has approximately 430 orders for the 787... four times
the number Airbus can claim for its A350XWB. Airbus redesigned its
aircraft this year to present a stronger competitor to the 787.
Already, Boeing has had to bring some outsourced assembly
procedures in-house for the prototype, as the company assigned to
build those components wasn't meeting Boeing's standards. The
manufacturer has also invested an additional $500 million in
bringing the plane's target weight down.
Those problems are expected to be worked out in time for
production... but what lies ahead for what is arguably Boeing's
most important project to date remains uncertain.
"There are literally... a million things that can go wrong in
the process that could throw them off track," said analyst Scott