Editor’s Note: Five Years ago, All Nippon Airways took delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Below is a report was written by Airways Managing Editor & Senior Partner, Chris Sloan, who attended this historic delivery event. In coming weeks, as we approach the 787’s 5th Anniversary of entry-into-service, we will flashback to key moments in the program’s history, including an in-depth feature on the prognosis of the program from Airways Sr. Analyst Vinay Bhaskara.
MIAMI — On September 25, 2011, Boeing delivered to All Nippon Airways (ANA), its first 787-8 Dreamliner. The delivery was a landmark in the history of the jetliner, which despite having a sound commercial success, it was marred by delays, cost overruns, and production shortcomings.
The program was officially launched on April 26, 2004, when ANA placed a firm order for 50 aircraft, thus becoming the launch customer for the Dreamliner.
Even before the launch, many locations outside of Washington State competed for the program. With a strained relationship between Boeing and the unions, the company considered several different locations, but in a case of history repeating itself, Boeing announced on December 16, 2003, that the 787 would be assembled in Everett. The state of Washington had to guarantee a $3.2 billion tax-break package over 20 years as well as commit $15.5 million to the building of a new barge dock at Mukilteo.
By the end of 2004, there were 237 orders and commitments for the 787, making it the fastest-selling jetliner ever.
The Growing Pains of the Dreamliner
Despite the initial commercial success, Boeing would eventually face its most severe production crisis since its 747 programs four decades before.
With an initial May 2008 entry into service (EIS), there was no time to waste. Production began in late 2006, the final assembly of the first aircraft in May 2007, and finally the celebrated roll out on July 8, 2007 “7/8/7”.
The festive event was nothing like the commercial aviation world has seen before, but when the first 787, (N787BA • ZA001 • MSN 40690 • LN 1) rolled out of Everett that warm summer’s day, it was not the customary months away from its first flight, but in fact years away.
There was an early word that the fastener shortage plaguing the Airbus A380 was also a bugaboo in the 787’s production plans, but the problems ran deeper than that.
Boeing’s goal was to transform Everett’s 787 line into a mere assembly plant, bolting together virtually all the sub-assemblies designed and produced elsewhere as though they were pieces of an airplane model kit.
Issues emerged from the get go. Unlike with the 777 that came together relatively smoothly even using the pioneering CAD, some of the 787 components made by far-flung suppliers didn’t fit together. Many subcontractors couldn’t meet their output quotas, creating huge supply chain logjams when critical parts weren’t available in the necessary sequence.
This resulted in rework after rework, and redesign after redesign. The result manifested itself in long delays, angry customers, overweight aircraft, financial pain on everyone’s part (program costs reportedly ballooned to $33 billion), pushing break even into the 2020s well after the first 1,000 airplanes have been delivered.
To add insult to injury, 27,000 of Boeing’s unionized machinists went on strike in September 2008. It was the third time the production line had been shut down by labor action in 13 years. The strike lasted for 8 weeks, delaying the new 747-8 and 787 programs even further. Considered the most expensive strike in U.S. history, it ultimately cost the company $2 billion in profits that year alone.
From The First Flight to the Delivery
More than two years after it was supposed to fly, the Dreamliner finally flew for the first time on December 15, 2009, at 10:27 local time, before an estimated crowd of more than 12,000 employees and guests from Paine Field in Everett. The first flight took approximately three hours, landing at 13:33 local at Seattle’s Boeing Field.
It would still be almost another two years until the first 787 was delivered on September 25, 2011, and finally entering service on October 26, 2011 – some 3 years behind schedule.
The Delivery Ceremony
Monday September 26, 2011, was a day more typical of Seattle: rainy and windy. The weather was not conducive to an outdoors hand-over ceremony, but even that could not dampen the festive mood of the over 10,000 people in attendance.
On the center stage were the CEO of Boeing, W. James (Jim) McNerney, Jr, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO; James (Jim) Albaugh, Scott Fancher, Pat Shanahan, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and general manager, airplane programs; and ANA President and CEO Shinichiro Ito.
Although individual speeches recognized ANA and the Boeing Dream Team, there was no ignoring the elephant in the room: the long delay to get to this date.
Pat Shanahan drew loud laughs when he said, “Breakthroughs are rarely smooth, but I have been waiting for this time for a long time; longer than I would’ve liked.” On a more serious note, he compared this moment of the 787 journey to what it must have felt like when Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit of Mount Everest in May 1953.
The celebration’s high point came when Jim Albaugh signed the symbolic documents transferring the 787 from Boeing to ANA, before presenting Ito-san with a ceremonial key to the airplane. “It’s not often that we have the chance to make history, do something big and bold that will change the world in untold ways, and endure long after we are gone,” Albaugh said. “That’s what the 787 Dreamliner is and what ANA and Boeing have done together—build what truly is the first new airplane of the 21st century.”
Responding in both English and Japanese, Ito-san declared: “We are delighted to be taking delivery finally of our first 787. ANA is extremely proud to be the launch customer for the Dreamliner and to have helped Boeing so closely in the development of this aircraft.” The Dreamliner will enable us to offer unrivaled standards of service and comfort to our passengers and will play a key part in ANA’s plans for international expansion.”
Befitting the occasion, there was all the usual and even not-so-usual flair. To the right of the main stage were the second 787 off the line and the first in ANA colors (N787EX • MSN 40691 • LN 2). This aircraft not only served as a reminder of the program, but it was also a very useful shelter from the torrential rain.
Employees were able to have their faces digitally projected onto huge screens around the venue. The climactic moment came when a mob of 500 Boeing and ANA employees led Dreamliner LN 24 (JA802A • MSN 34497) adorned in special ANA 787 livery, over to where the ceremony was being staged.
ANA staff distributed to all in attendance very cool “First Flight” scarves, which doubled as umbrellas and hoodies. Toward the end of the event, Fancher pointed out that there was a photographer on the roof and asked people grouped by departments to raise their scarves in the air and cheer one by one, then everyone was asked to raise them all at once.
At this point, the ceremony took on the feel of an NFL playoff game. The events wrapped up in little over an hour, and though the skies didn’t poetically clear, the downpour turned into a drizzle. Perhaps this was a good omen?
On Tuesday, September 27, the jetliner took off at 07:19 PST from Everett as ANA9397 for a 9hr 29min nonstop flight to Haneda, with ANA staff onboard. As the thousands in attendance waved goodbye to the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner delivered to a customer, the exuberance of the previous three days immediately began to be replaced with a focus on the tasks ahead as attention turned to the first revenue flight, which took place exactly a month later.
Equally significantly, there are the challenges associated with boosting production and dealing with and fixing, the inevitable teething problems arising from an EIS (entry into service). But the people of Boeing, ANA, and even jaded press personnel couldn’t help feel a certain pride and lump in their collective throats as, after almost ten arduous years, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner lifted away and finally became a commercial reality.