The first Boeing 787 is swarmed by the crowd attending the July 8, 2007, rollout of the plane at the Boeing plant in Everett. (Herald file)

Boeing 787 first rolled out of Everett plant 10 years ago

EVERETT — Saturday marks the 10th anniversary since the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner rolled out of the company’s Everett plant.

Thousands of Boeing workers and suppliers, aviation enthusiasts, public officials and journalists from around the world were on hand to see the first jetliner designed entirely in the 21st century. Many in the crowd expected the airplane to revolutionize how airplanes are designed and built.

The 787 is the first jetliner made mostly from composite materials. Boeing promised that it would be the most efficient twin-aisle airliner at the time. Its carbon fiber fuselage and wings would be packed with advanced technologies and features, such as huge passenger cabin windows and an electrical system with enough power for more than 500 homes.

The biggest change came from the 787’s supply chain. Boeing had assembled a global supply chain that required contractors to design, develop and deliver parts to Everett, where workers would snap the 787 together in as little as three days.

At least, that was the plan.

Design and development problems — many originating with suppliers — bogged down the program.

The 787 ultimately was delivered more than three years behind schedule. Production problems continued dogging the program, causing further delivery delays and costing Boeing billions of dollars.

And then a few batteries on passenger-carrying 787s started smoking and overheating. In early 2013, all 787s around the world were grounded as Boeing and others frantically worked to solve the problem. A runaway battery fire almost certainly would have been catastrophic.

Within a few weeks, the Dreamliners were in the air again. The airplanes’ batteries were encased in a fireproof compartment that vented heat and smoke out of the aircraft. The problem had been contained, if not completely solved.

Over the next couple of years, Boeing turned the corner on 787 production problems. Now, the company’s 787 final assembly lines in Everett and North Charleston, South Carolina, turn out about 12 airplanes a month. The company is considering pushing that to 14 a month.

Airlines have opened dozens of new routes with the efficient airliners. The second version to fly, the 787-9, has drawn high praise from many airline executives, who have been pleased with its lower operating and maintenance costs.

As of the end of June, Boeing has delivered 565 Dreamliners and has orders for another 710. In late 2016, the company delivered the 500th 787. No twin-aisle airplane has ever reached 500 deliveries as quickly as the Dreamliner.

The biggest version, the 787-10, first flew March 31, and is undergoing testing and certification. Boeing expects the first delivery of a 787-10 to an airline to come in the first half of 2018.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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