How the Dreamliner is shaping the future

Even before it carries its first paying passenger, the Boeing Co.’s 787 already has changed commercial aviation.

Despite its tardiness, Boeing’s Dreamliner is shaping the industry in big and small ways. It has created new expectations from airline customers in terms of fuel efficiency and qui

etness of operation. Boeing has used advances made on the 787 to give a boost to its other aircraft programs.

“The offshoot technology is being trickled down into other programs,” said Scott Hamilton, an analyst with Leeham Co.

Boeing certainly had a tough time developing and producing the Dreamliner, leading to a more than three-year delay. But for all its troubles, Hamilton believes the technological advances that Boeing made on the program, particularly its use of composites, will prove worthwhile in the long run. In the short term, Boeing and its customers already are seeing some rewards for the jet maker’s efforts.

Airbus’ A350: After going back to the drawing board several times, Airbus came up with its A350 Extra Wide Body jet, or A350 XWB — an aircraft made of more than 50 percent composite materials. The mid-sized jet doesn’t compete directly with Boeing’s 787-8 but takes aim at Boeing’s next largest jet, the 777. The A350’s fuselage consists of composite panels rather than composite barrels.

747-8: After working with Boeing to develop more fuel-efficient, quieter engines on the 787, General Electric put that knowledge to use on the 747-8. GE estimated its GEnx family of engines, used on the 787 and 747-8, will cut fuel consumption by 15 percent, compared to engines used on similar aircraft. The GEnx engines were built with 30 percent fewer parts, which cuts down on maintenance.

737 MAX: Although Boeing is keeping simple its upgrade of the 737, the jet will have a tail cone that bears a striking resemblance to that of the 787, Hamilton noted. While the two jets have different engine manufacturers, the 787 engine still is influencing Boeing’s thinking on the 737 MAX, he said.

New interior: Boeing spent a long time studying ways to improve the interior of an airplane. The company studied how lighting and archways affect passengers’ comfort levels in flight when developing the 787. It then used those advances — sculpted sidewalls, pivoting overhead bins and LED overhead lighting — in its Sky Interior, which is available on its 737 and is the basis of the interior for the 747-8.

Next new airplane: When Boeing decided to re-engine its 737 instead of replacing it, the company largely did so because it couldn’t figure out how to produce as many as 60 composite aircraft monthly, Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, has said. Even with years of experience in composite manufacturing technology, Boeing and its suppliers still have room to learn.

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