Chinese airlines breathed a collective sigh of relief this week after Boeing completed the long-delayed first test flight of its new 787 Dreamliner.
The three-hour maiden flight on Tuesday of the light and fuel-efficient airplane was cut short from the planned five because of bad weather.
Boeing said on Tuesday it hopes to deliver its first 787 – to Japan’s All Nippon Airways – during the fourth quarter next year.
Boeing China yesterday declined to say when it hopes to deliver aircraft ordered by Chinese customers. A source with China Southern, the largest domestic airline by fleet size, said it expects to receive 10 starting in 2011.
“We plan to use the 787 jet to gradually replace part of our Boeing 777 jets on international flights to Europe, America and Australia,” the source, who declined to be named, told China Daily.
State broadcaster CCTV said industry insiders believe the 787 will become one of the main models in China.
The aircraft, which has been described as “game-changing”, went no higher than 4,572 m, at a maximum speed of about 333 km per hour, during its test flight but it was hailed as “a milestone” for aviation.
The United States aerospace giant hopes the Dreamliner will revolutionize the airline industry worldwide.
The medium-sized, twin-aisle 787 is being marketed as the world’s first passenger airplane made largely from lightweight composite materials, such as carbon fiber. Other passenger jets are made mainly from aluminum and titanium.
Because it is so light, the plane will use 20 percent less fuel than comparable aircraft and produce fewer emissions, Boeing said.
David Wang, president of Boeing China, said the 787 is also “a milestone in Boeing’s partnership with China’s aviation industry” because three Chinese companies – from Chengdu, Harbin and Shenyang – are producing its rudder, wing-to-body fairing and vertical fin leading edge.
Among the three, Chengdu Aircraft Corp is Boeing’s sole supplier of the 787’s rudder.
“This signifies that China’s aviation industry is no longer a contract manufacturer, but has entered strategic cooperation (with Boeing) in the development of an advanced passenger jet,” Boeing China said in a news release.
“We look forward to further strengthening these long-term successful partnerships,” Wang added.
Boeing predicts China will need 3,770 new planes in the next two decades – a $400 billion market. Among them, it says 790 new planes will be twin-aisle aircraft.
Boeing’s rival, Airbus, is developing an airplane with similar aspirations – it hopes the A350 XWB will be ready in 2013.
The A350 had received 505 orders from 32 customers as of last month. China Aviation Supplies Holding Co is among companies hoping to fly the A350 – it signed a letter of intent in 2006 for 20.
Boeing, meanwhile, said its 787 Dreamliner is the fastest-selling new commercial jetliner in history. So far, 55 customers worldwide have ordered 840.
Five Chinese airlines – Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines – placed an order for 57 in 2005.
Some Chinese airlines had hoped the 787 would be in the air for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 but Boeing pushed back the test flight five times, finally getting into the air two years later than first hoped, because of parts problems and labor troubles.