Now the question is: which 7E7 variant will be first?

Following the launch of the 7E7 with one large order from one major customer, Boeing faces the daunting task of turning its Dreamliner into a real aircraft. As launch customer, with a firm order for an unspecified mixture of 50 short-range 7E7-3s and long-range 7E7-8s worth $5.7 billion at list prices, All Nippon Airways (ANA) will be able to decide which airframe/engine combination will be certificated first.

The choice could be crucial, as Boeing is in "active proposal discussions" with more than 25 airlines, with firm offers made to 12 of them, "a couple" in the USA and the rest in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, says Mike Bair, senior vice-president 7E7 programme. "A number will be finalised before the end of the year," he says.

Deliveries are to begin in 2008. Boeing says it does not yet know which variant will be certificated initially, but ANA says the 7E7-8 will be delivered first. The second variant will be certificated five to six months later, says Bair, adding that the 7E7-9 stretch will not enter service before 2010 at the earliest.

ANA will decide on the engine by the end of the third quarter, Bair adds. Sources in Japan say there is no favourite between the General Electric GENX and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. A four-month gap is planned between certification of the lead engine on the 7E7 and the second powerplant, Bair says.

As launch customer, Bair says ANA will work closely with Boeing to finalise design of the 7E7. A firm configuration is scheduled by mid-2005, with assembly beginning in 2006, first flight in 2007 and certification and service entry in 2008. "ANA will get some of the first aircraft in 2008," says Bair.

The expected delivery pace of eight aircraft a year to ANA "fits the anticipated early production rate", Bair says, but he is concerned overall demand could outstrip supply, at least initially. "There is a limited number of aircraft in the first couple of years, and we are looking at a lot more activity than we have the capability to produce," he says. Boeing is understood to have 92 delivery positions available through to 2009.

Japan has played a pivotal role in getting the 7E7 programme off the ground, and formal launch will lead to final approval by the Japanese government of a loan scheme to help local manufacturers cover their 7E7 development costs. The government has held off approving the loans pending a launch order and a master programme contract between Boeing and its three major Japanese suppliers.

Fuji, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi - which will manufacture 35% of the airframe under a joint project managed by the Japan Aircraft Development Corporation - expect to forge the master contract within the next several weeks. Industry sources expect loans covering up to 70% of development costs to be awarded around the same time.

Within months the government will also take up a proposal to designate one or both of the engines as a national project, mirroring the 7E7. Ishikawajima-Harima, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi are all seeking supplier deals with GE and R-R. To win government loans, seen as a "remote possibility" because the three manufacturers will probably split up in partnering with GE and R-R, industry sources believe that at least two of them must secure a minimum combined workshare of 20%.



Source: Flight International