Lighter, stronger, smarter

Charlie Burr


This morning's Oregonian features a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, and how it's changing air travel and operational costs for airlines. Read about how Boeing's investment in a more fuel-efficient airliner is paying off here and here.

The lighter composite material of the Dreamliner reduces fuel consumption -- with a target reduction of 20 percent -- and pushes down the seat-mile, the cost of moving a passenger one mile.

Plastics -- derided as flimsy and fake since at least 1967, when Dustin Hoffman's film character in "The Graduate" spurned them as a career -- may finally get respect with a jet expected to revolutionize aviation.

Composite materials are lighter and stronger than aluminum, enabling quicker assembly, lower fuel consumption, cheaper operation -- and cabin improvements ranging from bigger windows to more comfortable air pressure.

Boeing plans to unveil the first 787 in July -- on the auspicious date of 7/8/07. Delivery is planned to begin next year. But the jet is already so hot that 38 airlines have ordered 490 planes at $150 million or so a pop -- the best wide-body launch in industry history.

The 787 catapults Boeing ahead of archrival Airbus, which is mired in delays building its 555-passenger A380 superjumbo. The light weight of the Dreamliner, whose three models will seat from 210 to 330 passengers, will cut airline costs.

"This is not an airplane; it's breakthrough technology," says Michael Boyd, a Colorado aviation consultant. "While Airbus was trying to re-create the 1970s with a jumbo jet, Boeing looked over the horizon and is now driving the 21st century."

The 787 Dreamliner is not just contributing to Oregon's manufacturing base, it's creating the potential for increased trade and economic links to Asia. From the story:

A Dreamliner could enable nonstop service from Portland to a city in China, for example, says Allen Alley, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's deputy chief of staff handling economic development and transportation. If necessary to fill China-bound planes, he says, Portland could link with a city such as Denver.

"It means," Alley says, "it's economical now to connect Portland directly with just about any city on earth."


[Full disclosure: I work as a senior account executive with Edelman, the world's largest independent public relations firm. Although I don't work on the Boeing account, Edelman represents Boeing. My last post about the 787 Dreamliner is here: Better planes, cleaner skies.]

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    I'll let these planes fly a few years to see if they stay in the air, before I take a ride in a plastic plane.

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    In 1998, I was in an emergency landing in an aluminium body plane after the cockpit window cracked, causing us to lose cabin pressure. Not fun.

    I don't think anyone wants to see a trade-off between fuel efficiency and safety; I have confidence that these will be ready to go long before passengers ever get to a chance to check em out.

  • Joel Shapiro (unverified)

    Hey Charlie -- how do we sign up for the guest list to get on a test flight for one of those babies? (I'm not ready to shell out a couple grand to zip over to China this summer.) Or maybe a walk through? I hope you, at least, get to do that as a perk of your employment. Nice work by Boeing to position itself on the green edge.

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    Haven't Airbus A340s been made of composite materials for years?

    I don't mean to demean Boeing's achievement with this plane, because it sounds like a great step forward. But I'm under the impression that composites have been used to build Airbus planes for awhile.

  • Hawthorne (unverified)


    You must not work for Edelman?

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    Stephanie-- The Airbus A340 uses a carbon composite spoiler, but still has a relatively high level of fuel consumption.

    From wikipedia:

    When fuel costs rose, airlines began looking at the Boeing 777 as an alternative to the A340. As the years went by, orders for the 777 rose, while orders for the A340 began diminishing. A340, dubbed the A340E; where E stands for enhanced, because of disappointing sales in the wake of newer longer range Boeing 777s in 2005, and the rise in fuel costs that have justified twin-engine planes as being more economical to operate than four engine planes. Airbus claims that the enhanced A340 will be more fuel-efficient than earlier A340s and will allow the model to compete more effectively with the Boeing 777.

    Brother Joel-- Always good to hear from you. Hope D.C. life is treating you well.

  • Leo XXIII (unverified)

    Wow--+Charlie---Thanks for this informative article---I can't wait to hear all the other stories about your firms clients!!! Can we do an Edelman story every Monday morning???

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)

    Why does Oregon need flight service to the PRC? Does Oregon really need to do business with some right-wing regime that makes neocons look like Romper-Room for yet another sweatshirt or geegaw? Shouldn't the Pacific Northwest be developing physical linkages with countries that are energy independent like Ecuador, Brazil and Venzuela to ensure responsible energy management through liberal cultural exchanges?

    American Airlines flight 587 was an Airbus 300 with lug nuts made of "composite material" in the tail section that tragically failed during take-off.

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    Hawthorne and Leo 23: Hey guys, I'm trying to be transparent here. I'm interested in what Boeing's doing and thought that these articles were a good follow-up to the piece from early December (before joining the firm). I don't work on the Boeing account, but still find their fuel-efficiency innovations worth noting. Also, if I wasn't with Edelman, I would have simply posted an "in the news" follow-up. Again, trying to go for maximum disclosure.

    We do pro-bono work for Archimedes Movement in our office, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't write about their health care efforts any more than Kari should refrain from commenting on Kitzhaber's work because he helped build the email system. It only means that disclosure is in order, which is what I was going for above.

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    <h2>Personally, I find this stuff fascinating - and it has an Oregon connection too. Charlie's done exactly right thing, disclosure-wise.</h2>

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