Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Boeing has long been a key name in the world of aviation, and their planes are amongst the most famous models to soar amongst the clouds - and the 787 is no exception. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner first took to the skies on December 15, 2009, and the initial delivery to All Nippon Airways (ANA) was made on September 26, 2011. The first variant to fly in 2009 was the 787-8, a model which can accommodate between 210 and 250 passengers and flight attendants in a typical two class configuration, and this capacity was increased to between 250 and 290 travellers by the 787-9, which undertook its maiden flight on September 17, 2013. The largest of the family is the 787-10, able to fly 300 to 330 passengers, which took to the skies for the first time on March 31, 2017. The innovations and performance of the twin-engine jet airliner have proven to be a hit with airlines such as British Airways, United Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Premia in South Korea, and Korean Air, all of whom have ordered the Boeing Dreamliner in huge numbers, implementing new nonstop routes and destinations.

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner: An Overview

March 2021 saw Boeing make the move to consolidate Dreamliner production at its North Charleston facility, and this means that all 787 aircraft are now assembled, prepared for the first flight, and delivered to the customer from the South Carolina base - a process designed to ensure consistent quality and adherence to European Aviation Safety Agency guidelines.

Once a 787 rolls out of the factory, the delivery process begins. Though the amount of time it takes to deliver a 787 varies from customer to customer, the process always involves these steps:

  • Painting and weighing
  • Fuelling
  • Preparing for and conducting first flight.
  • Preparing the aircraft for delivery.
  • Certifying, ticketing, and delivering the aircraft.

Once a delivery date is set between the customer and Boeing, a detailed schedule is established that considers many variables, including the customer’s needs and even cultural traditions, to ensure the best possible customer experience.

Painting and Weighing

When a 787 aircraft rolls out from final assembly, it’s already painted with a ready-to-go topcoat, and this coating is applied to protect the aircraft’s composite fuselage from ultraviolet light. Once assembled, the aircraft is towed to one of two paint hangars in the North Charleston facility, where a crew of a dozen or more painters apply between 500 and 600lb of polyurethane paint on a typical paint scheme. The actual painting process takes approximately five days, which includes one day for sanding the topcoat to prepare the aircraft for painting. More complicated liveries require additional time.

Once the Boeing Dreamliner is painted and decals and other placards are applied, it is weighed inside the paint hangar using a portable aircraft digital scale. The aircraft must meet a specific weight target required by the customer at delivery. Before the airline’s crew can fly the jet home, more work must be done — the aircraft must be fuelled, assessed, and flown, and the regulatory paperwork must be completed.

Fuelling

When a 787 aircraft is moved to the fuel dock, the team takes the aircraft through a series of tests to validate that the fuel system plumbing, pumps, valves, tanks, and flightdeck controls operate correctly. Other systems, such as the fuel quantity indicating system, the refuelling control panel, and hardware such as the jettison nozzles, are also evaluated to ensure they work properly. The fuel is also assessed through three different methods to ensure the cleanliness of the system, and the auxiliary power unit is started for the first time while these tests are underway.

Aviation maintenance technicians fill the aircraft’s fuel tanks with Jet-A fuel; a type of aviation fuel designed for use in aircraft powered by gas-turbine engines. The aircraft is also defueled to check that the defuel pumps work properly and that the scavenge system in the centre fuel tank pushes fuel to the wings as intended.

The quantity of fuel provided when the aircraft is delivered varies from customer to customer, but on average, a 787 has 91,000lb of Jet-A fuel at the end of the fuel-testing process. Before the aircraft leaves the fuel dock, a standby compass calibrator is installed, and the aircraft is towed to a compass rose, where technicians swing the compass to calibrate it. The aircraft then travels to a pre-flight stall to prepare for its first flight testing.

Preparing an Aircraft for First Flight

All flight systems on the aircraft must be assessed before delivery. The process starts with servicing: running the engines, ensuring that there is the right amount of nitrogen in the tyres and shock struts and checking the hydraulic fluids.

Inside the cabin, technicians doublecheck the seats, flip every switch, and push every button on the flight deck, test the in-flight entertainment system and make sure all interior fixtures are installed properly. It is not a superficial or cosmetic check: engineers must certify that the cabin meets all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

The first flight for any Boeing commercial aircraft is called a B1 or a Boeing flight, and both Boeing and FAA pilots are authorised by the FAA to certify the aircraft for operations. Only four people are authorised to be on board the B1 flight: two pilots, one systems operator and one systems analyst. Each person has a series of defined tasks to complete during the flight, which typically lasts 2.5 to three hours.

Before the aircraft leaves the ground for the first time, pilots conduct a rejected take-off to test the brakes. During this manoeuvre, the aircraft is brought to near take-off speeds and stopped abruptly. Upon successful completion, the aircraft is ready to go.

Once airborne, the systems operator and analyst check that everything works the way it should. For example, every lavatory is checked — water turned on and off and toilets flushed — and every stow bin is opened and closed. The in-flight entertainment system is also checked to ensure that it is fully operational.

As the crew heads back to the production site, the pilots disconnect the engine-driven generators to verify the ram-air turbine (RAT) works properly. The RAT, a small turbine connected to an electric generator, is one of the backup systems that ensure an aircraft can be safely landed even in the unlikely event of an engine failure.

The flight crew will document any issues — called flight squawks — during the B1 flight so they can be fixed before the customer’s walk and final inspection. In some cases, additional Boeing flights are flown to verify that the aircraft is ready for delivery.

Preparing an Aircraft for Delivery

The final stage of the process involves a walk and final inspection by the customer. Typically, a team from the airline arrives at Boeing to accept the aircraft several days before the contracted delivery date. The acceptance team may include pilots, flight operation personnel, a team of inspectors and typically a contracts representative. Before the delivery, the airline’s pilot, accompanied by a Boeing pilot, flies the 787 on a C1 — or customer flight — using the same profile flown on the B1 flight to test the systems and aircraft response once again. Sometimes specific airline requirements are also incorporated into the C1 flight plan.

Certifying, Ticketing and Delivering

Finally, the representatives from the customer and Boeing sign the paperwork and settle the final payment for the new aircraft. On delivery day, airline executives and Boeing contracts specialists gather to do so in a conference room. Every delivery is as individual as the customer - some customers may elect to have an elaborate ceremony with high level guests and media, while others may simply take the aircraft’s ceremonial keys and fly the aircraft home.

Lifecycle Sustainability

Sustainability and eco-issues are at the forefront of any conversation about aviation, and Boeing has made steady progress throughout the jet age in improving the environmental performance of its aircraft, from fuel use and emissions to community noise. With the 787 Dreamliner family, the company introduced new technologies to create even better lifecycle sustainability for commercial jetliners.

Boeing claims its commitment to improving sustainability is based on the company’s deeply held belief that doing the right thing for the environment is also good business, allowing the best of both worlds for all parties. This is especially true for an aircraft manufacturer - one of the many reasons that people choose to fly is to enjoy the variety of the world, and so it is important that the planet is preserved and protected for generations to come.

Reduced Fuel Burn and Emissions Cut

Fuel efficiency is a key priority in the aviation industry, and most airlines have moved to fuel-efficient aircraft to help resolve the issues surrounding pollution and air travel.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced as fuel is consumed. This means that reducing fuel use brings an equivalent reduction in CO2 emissions. According to Boeing, since the first 787 entered service in 2011, the 787 family has avoided more than 90bn pounds of carbon emissions.

Another key emission standard for commercial jetliners is nitrogen oxides (NOx). Specific regulations have already been set for future aircraft, using a complex formula that is based on the thrust ratings of aircraft engines. The 787 family is significantly more efficient — 20 to 25% more efficient — than the types of aircraft it replaces.

Four key technologies on the 787 Dreamliner contribute to a 20 to 25% improvement in fuel use compared with other types of aircraft: these include new engines, greater use of lightweight composite materials, more efficient systems applications, and modern aerodynamics.

Quieter Take-offs and Landings

Many airports are located close to residential communities, and reducing the noise created by aircraft take-offs and landings is an important measure of environmental performance. As with its commitments to reduce fuel use and thus emission odours, Boeing has also worked to reduce the sound footprint of its aircraft — the distance across which disturbing noise is heard.

The 787 Dreamliner family incorporates new technologies to ensure that no sound of 85 decibels — about the level of loud traffic heard from the side of the road — leaves the airport boundaries. In fact, the noise footprint of the 787 is more than 60% smaller than those of the types of aircraft it replaces. Technologies include acoustically treated engine inlets and chevrons (the distinctive serrated edges at the back of the engines) and other special treatments for the engines and engine casings.

Point-to-Point

The mission capability of the 787 Dreamliner also provides an environmental advantage, allowing airlines to offer more direct flights connecting mid-sized cities. The development of the 787 family has allowed for the creation of more than 320 new non-stop routes that previously were not financially feasible for airlines.

While other larger, twin-aisle aircraft have previously had the range to accomplish such missions, they are generally too large to operate economically on routes between mid-sized cities. The mid-sized 787, however, can operate quite efficiently between such cities, eliminating the need for additional take-offs and landings.

Connecting people more directly to their destination offers several environmental benefits. A more direct route uses less fuel and thus produces fewer emissions, while fewer take-offs and landings reduce the total noise footprint. In addition, removing pass-through traffic keeps airports and airways clearer for those passengers who need to be at hub airports. Studies show that, depending on location, between 30 and 50% of all passengers’ at large hub airports are transit passengers, and this plays a role in creating congestion and other environmental impacts in a city that is neither their point of origin nor destination.

The 787 is designed to transport passengers and cargo from their city of origin to their final destinations in the most environmentally efficient manner.

Less Wasteful Production

The 787 is made primarily of carbon-fibre composite material, which can be trimmed like cloth, and this means that manufacturing processes produce less scrap material and waste. This is a contrast to most aircraft, which are made primarily of aluminium, which must be milled and machined from large sheets or blocks to create aircraft structure.

In general, as much as 90% of the raw aluminium used to create aircraft parts is turned into scrap during the manufacturing process. Although this scrap can be recycled, it is better to prevent this waste whenever possible - and the 787 composite solution enables this efficiency. In addition, Boeing’s design team is constantly working to reduce or eliminate materials that are less desirable for environmental performance and worker wellbeing.

According to Boeing, the overall manufacturing and maintenance process for the 787 produces less waste and uses fewer harmful chemicals and agents.

End-of-Life Recycling

Boeing collaborates with companies around the world to facilitate and implement processes which will allow the 787 to be recycled when it is eventually retired. Though the first retirements are likely 30 years away, it is important that preparatory work is done today.

Boeing partnered with ELG Carbon Fibre in December 2018 to recycle excess aerospace-grade composite material, which will be used by other companies to make products such as electronic accessories and automotive equipment. The agreement – the first of its kind for the aerospace industry – covers excess carbon fibre from 11 Boeing aircraft manufacturing sites and will reduce solid waste by more than a million pounds a year.

Environmentally Responsible Facilities

Environmentally responsible facilities are also a key part of a sustainable process, and Boeing South Carolina, home to the 787 Dreamliner final assembly and delivery, became a 100% renewable energy site in 2011. The site is also a zero-waste-to-landfill site, meaning that no waste generated at the site is sent to landfill. Waste material is recycled, reused, repurposed, or sent to energy recovery facilities.