Under the cover of darkness Boeing rolled out the first 787-9 from the 40-24 bay of the factory in Everett, Washington, in the late hours of 17 July, achieving a milestone event for the first stretched variant of the 787-8 with as little fanfare and public scrutiny as possible.

The first of four flight test vehicles rolled out of the factory to travel to the nearby paint facility. Boeing plans to stage a formal roll-out ceremony after the aircraft is painted for employees only. Afterwards, the aircraft will begin a months-long flight test campaign and an entry into-service with Air New Zealand in mid-2014.

The 6.07m (20ft) stretch of the fuselage adds space for roughly 40 more seats compared to the 787-8, while increasing maximum take-off weight by 10% to 251,000kg (553,000lb) and increasing top range by 3.95% to 15,800km (8,500nm).

 787-9 rollout

 Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

The first 787-9, dubbed ZB001, also will be powered by the new Package C version of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine, which increases thrust by 5.71% to 74,000lb compared to the Package B now powering 787-8. General Electric will install the performance improvement package (PIP)-2 version of the GEnx-1B engine on the fourth flight test vehicle in the 787-9 programme.

The movement of the first 787-9 out of the final assembly bay comes exactly on the schedule that Boeing first proposed for the new variant three years ago.

But it arrives against the backdrop of renewed concerns about the safety of the baseline aircraft, following an onboard fire that damaged a parked and empty Ethiopian Airlines 787-8 at London Heathrow airport on 12 July.

That incident remains under the investigation of the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which has not yet released an initial report.

Boeing vice-president of marketing Randy Tinseth said on his blog on 17 July that the company is "confident the 787 is a safe airplane and we stand behind its overall integrity".

So far, the AAIB has only said there is no evidence of a direct causal relationship between the fire and the lithium ion batteries used to start the auxiliary power unit (APU).

Overheating lithium-ion batteries for the APU and the main batteries caused the US Federal Aviation Administration to ground the 787-8 fleet for four months earlier this year. Flights only resumed after Boeing redesigned the battery cells and the battery enclosure, but the cause of the overheating batteries is still under investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news