Boeing's Troubled Dreamliner Makes Debut

Boeing's New 787 Dreamliner makes its international debut at the Farnborough Airshow in England on Monday. Boeing has more than 800 orders for the fuel-efficient aircraft, but the project has suffered repeated delays, and the first planes are not expected to be delivered before next year.

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Boeing's Dreamliner aircraft has made its introductory flight on the world stage. The company's newest plane is critical to Boeing's future, but it's been plagued by nearly three years of delays. The twin-engine jetliner flew into the Farnborough International Airshow in Southern England yesterday. That's the biggest and most important industry trade show.

Vicki Barker reports.

(Soundbite of airplane engine)

VICKI BARKER: The world's first mostly carbon fiber jetliner dropped from the clouds like a feather, the model number standing out in white italics on a royal blue tail.

(Soundbite of airplane engine)

BARKER: The 787 Dreamliner, flying into massive interest from the global media, as well as aviation enthusiasts like Mary B. Lyons.

Ms. MARY LYONS: Well, I had to see the Dreamliner. I've just been longing to see it land. I've got some great photographs. It's a very aircraft, and it's pointing the way to the future.

BARKER: In a world of growing economic and environmental uncertainty, that future is leaner, greener and ever more globalized.

Ms. LORI GUNTER (Spokeswoman, Boeing): The nose comes from Wichita. The neck section comes from Japan, and the back section is Italy.

BARKER: Boeing's Lori Gunter takes off a few of the links in what's become the world's most sprawling supply chain. The lightweight, fuel-efficient Dreamliner is in direct competition with Europe's Airbus A380, which is also on display here.

Airbus is gambling that bigger is better, packing more passengers into its ever-larger jumbo jets. Boeing deliberately kept the passenger load of the Dreamliner down to between two and 300. That means travelers will be able to fly, say, from smaller U.S. airports direct to China or India without having to change at a hub.

For clients awaiting delivery, the Farnborough Airshow is a chance to see what their $170 million is getting them. Inside, the first difference you notice is the windows. They're about twice the height of standard commercial jetliners. And instead of yanking on a plastic shade, you hit a touch pad to progressively darken the glass.

With test flights still around the halfway mark, the main cabin's filled with blinking racks of monitoring equipment. Complexity has come at a price. The entire project is two-and-a-half years behind schedule. No apologies from Boeing Vice President Jim Albaugh.

Mr. JIM ALBAUGH (Vice President, Boeing): The Boeing Company always innovates. We always push technology. And maybe we pushed it a little hard on this airplane, but this is an airplane that's going to be around for the next 50 years. This is an airplane that's going to change the way airplanes are built and the way people travel. I think people will rapidly forget that it was late.

BARKER: Jon Ostrower of Flight International Magazine agrees that missed deadlines are inevitable with this level of innovation. He says Boeing's biggest headache lies elsewhere in the very global marketplace the Dreamliner was designed for. It is why with U.S. and European aviation still struggling financial, Farnborough's organizers say its exhibitor stands are sold out. The playing field is changing, Ostrower says, and both Boeing and Airbus know it.

Mr. JON OSTROWER (Journalist, Flight International Magazine): What's going on in their rearview mirror is China, is Brazil, it's Russia, it's India, it is the Canadians building new commercial aircraft to take then on, head-to-head. Really, the dynamic is completely shifting very, very quickly here at Farnborough.

BARKER: For the past decade, Airbus and Boeing have had little to fear but each other. Now they're watching their customers rapidly becoming their competition.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker at Britain's Farnborough International Airshow.

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