787 earns certification

The Boeing Co.’s 787 jet gained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday, paving the way for first delivery Sept. 26.

“Today is a day we’ve all been working very hard for — for many, many years,” said Scott Fancher, general manager of the 787, at a ceremony held in Everett.

The achievement hasn’t come easily for Boeing, which had expected to hand over its first Dreamliner in May 2008. However, the mostly composite jet still has more than 800 orders, making it one of the most sought-after aircraft at this stage in its life. The jet maker wrapped up flight testing earlier this month, having started the process in December 2009.

Friday, however, was more reminiscent of July 8, 2007, when Boeing first unveiled its Dreamliner at the Everett factory. Sun streamed down on that first 787 on Friday as the second 787, painted All Nippon Airways color scheme, flew over, wiggling its wings in greeting to the crowd gathered below.

Unlike at the rollout, the Dreamliner event on Friday wasn’t marking an empty shell of an airplane. The occasion marked a truly significant moment in the Dreamliner’s history: the clearance from aviation authorities to deliver the 787. FAA administrator Randy Babbitt gave Boeing two certifications — one approving the overall design, the other giving Boeing’s 787 production system the OK.

The second “is actually worth a lot more,” Babbitt said with a laugh.

With the FAA approval, Boeing can begin ramping up production on its 787, ultimately delivering jets to customers. After more than three years of delay, Boeing and its suppliers can use the cash. Bernstein Research suggested earlier this month that Boeing might not turn a profit on the 787 until the company delivers the 1,000 aircraft.

Getting to that goal means increasing production as quickly as is prudent. The company plans to build 10 787s monthly by 2013.

“We have a few more mountains to climb,” said Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division.

Roughly 40 787s are parked around Paine Field in Everett. Boeing will have to update each of those with improvements and changes made to the design during flight testing. Company officials already have said that work will take through 2012 to complete.

Despite the challenges ahead, Boeing officials were happy to reach the certification milestone on Friday. Both Fancher and Albaugh thanked the FAA, Boeing workers and 787 customers.

“ANA has been with us every step of the way,” Fancher said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude for all they have done.”

Boeing and ANA will sign the contract on the first 787 Sept. 25, with a delivery ceremony Sept. 26. ANA already has announced the Dreamliner’s first commercial flight will take place Oct. 26 from Tokyo to Hong Kong.

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