The entire aircraft industry, with the exception of Toulouse, can rejoice that the public debut of the first fully assembled 787 finds Boeing back in peak form, and perhaps on the verge of making a new and unprecedented run.

The magnitude of the event can be seen with the number of 787 orders and commitments at the time of roll-out. Boeing originally set a goal to have the unheard-of sum of 500 aircraft orders by that date, but now boasts 642 orders well in advance of first flight.

Moreover, two of Boeing's biggest customer bases - US and European mainline carriers - remain largely untapped, with combined orders for only 70 aircraft so far and a wave of fleet replacements expected in the near future.

With the 787, Boeing seems to have got the customer formula about right, with the notable exception of Emirates that was looking for a new aircraft much closer in size to the larger 777. The 787 has come at precisely the right time for Boeing and at exactly the wrong time for Airbus.

It's tempting to want to make comparisons to Boeing's golden era of the 1950s and 1960s, when in a series of daring, though brilliant, moves the company solidified its position as a market leader for the next few decades. It did so by offering new aircraft that lacked a built-in market ready for them when they arrived. Boeing's 707 introduced most airlines to the concept of jet service (with apologies to the ill-fated DeHavilland Comet), and the 747 opened up the possibilities of mass travel at long range.

The 787 is an entirely different species of revolution in the aircraft industry. Airlines certainly will have no need to reinvent the wheel to find a home for the 787 in their route structures. If the 767 made transatlantic service possible for twin-engine jets and the 777 opened up transpacific routes for the same, the 787 arrives with the promise of doing both but more efficiently.

That is not the definition of a game-changer aircraft, at least from the airlines' perspective. If Boeing believed the time was right to deliver a true game-changer for airlines, the company would have stuck with its plans for the high-speed Sonic Cruiser, which truly would have changed the way airlines operate.

The 787 instead is reshaping how aircraft are designed and built for good. Boeing chose not to gamble on the readiness of airlines to accept a game-changer aircraft design but rather on the readiness of the supply chain to accept a much higher level of responsibility.

As such, Boeing distributed design, engineering and production of the 787 to Italy, Japan and other parts of the USA, such as South Carolina and Kansas. Boeing's industry partners in Japan - the four heavies - have the wing and fuselage component, Alenia and Vought share control of the aft fuselage and stabiliser, while Spirit Aerospace makes the nose and cockpit.

It is true that an executive in the automobile or electronics industries may find it very quaint that such a manufacturing strategy could still be described as a "revolution". However, by comparing Boeing to itself, and seeing the great leap in decentralised production from the 777 family to the 787 family, the airframer's achievement be fairly measured.

Getting the production philosophy right will mean Boeing should have vastly more flexibility to respond to shifts in market demand in the future, such as, perhaps, heeding growing pleas from airlines to deliver a single-aisle replacement sooner than 2015.

While assembling the 787 remains no easy trick, Boeing has given itself a slight edge in manoeuvrability by outsourcing responsibility down the food chain. Expect this process to continue to creep down to lower and lower levels of the industry as time moves on.

Of course, some evidence suggests that Boeing may have gambled too much on the readiness of the supplier base to meet the demands. There was the embarrassing disclosure of the infamous fuselage gap at final assembly, caused by suppliers lacking the necessary amount of fasteners in time. There are also persistent rumours that the 787's first delivery in mid-2008 could be delayed by a lack of availability of speciality metals and problems with a decentralised production system.

But the smart money appears to be on Boeing's side of the argument and on the suppliers soon enough finding their comfort zone within the new system. Why else would Airbus have launched Power8, its own version of a streamlined, decentralised production system, earlier this year if there were hints that Boeing's policy was set for a fall?

Source: Flight International