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For sale: Six pudgy, gently used test planes

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By Michelle Dunlop
Herald Writer
  • Boeing's first 747, the City of Everett, is moved across East Marginal Way in Seattle to its new home at the Museum of Flight.

    Bill Leamus

    Boeing's first 747, the City of Everett, is moved across East Marginal Way in Seattle to its new home at the Museum of Flight.

EVERETT -- It's a bit like buying a used car.
But test aircraft, which go through a barrage of ground and flight tests, typically don't sell well.
The Boeing Co. hopes to find buyers for all six of its "used" 787s -- the six Dreamliner jets that will be put through a barrage of ground and flight tests to prove to both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration that the 787 is fit to fly.
Boeing's mostly composite 787 has won more orders than any of the company's other new airplanes had at the same point in the program, with more than 800 orders on the books. Still, Boeing doesn't have any buyers for the six 787 test planes.
That's not unusual. Few new airplane programs have sold all of the aircraft associated with flight testing.
For instance, Boeing's rival, Airbus, which was the latest to introduce an all-new jet, the A380, did not sell the first test plane even after delivering the first super jumbo for commercial service to Singapore Airlines in October 2007.
Boeing's original 747, the first one to roll off the assembly line more than 40 years ago here in Everett, was never delivered to a customer. It resides at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The company also never sold its first 767.
But selling test airplanes is not a completely new concept, and Boeing has been able to pull it off in the past.
The jet maker eventually sold its test aircraft for its 777, its last all-new twin-aisle aircraft. Although Boeing delivered the first 777 to enter commercial service to United Airlines in May 1995, it didn't deliver the initial 777 test plane to a customer for another five years. In 2000, Cathay Pacific bought the first 777.
Besides being subjected to extreme conditions as part of the flight test program, test airplanes often don't live up to jet makers' sales specifications. And the 787 test airplanes are no exception. All six are expected to be overweight compared to what Boeing promised customers.
But Boeing has incentive to sell its bloated test planes. The plane is nearly two years late, racking up extra engineering costs and compensation to customers. Plus the 787-8 sells for between $161 million and $171.5 million at list price, although aircraft makers tend to discount heavily.
Even if the test planes might be overweight and already used, the aircraft are still too costly to gather dust.
Story tags » 787



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