By Bill Rigby Sun Jul 8, 3:35 PM ET
SEATTLE (Reuters) – Boeing Co. prepared to unveil the first carbon-composite 787 Dreamliner on Sunday amid a flurry of 55 new orders for the lightweight, fuel efficient plane.
European, Middle Eastern and Australian carriers trumpeted new purchases at various Boeing events in Seattle, as the plane maker got ready to host 15,000 or so employees, customers and suppliers at its nearby Everett, Washington, plant.
All are waiting for the first glimpse of the mid-sized, long-range jetliner, which is the company’s first all-new plane in 12 years.
The jet will not look radically new on the outside, but beneath the just-dried paint lies a structure 50 percent made up of carbon composite materials and another 15 percent titanium, making the plane much lighter and fuel efficient than existing jetliners of the same size.
The use of fatigue-resistant and rust-free composite materials means air in the cabin can be more humid, leaving passengers less dried out and jetlagged after a long flight.
The lighter weight and newly designed engines made by General Electric Co. and Britain’s Rolls-Royce plc mean air carriers will save about 20 percent on fuel costs.
Airlines have jumped at the plane after years of struggling to turn a profit, and Boeing is rapidly closing in on 700 orders, worth more than $100 billion at list prices.
The plane is trouncing rival Airbus, whose competing A350 XWB (extra wide body) has been bedeviled by design changes. The European plane maker conceded that the day — 7/8/07 in U.S. date shorthand — belonged to Boeing.
“Even if tomorrow Airbus will get back to the business of competing vigorously, today is Boeing’s day — a day to celebrate the 787,” Airbus chief executive Louis Gallois wrote in a letter to Boeing CEO Jim McNerney in a letter made public by Airbus on Sunday.
Airbus and Boeing are the subject of a long-running EU-U.S. trade row over subsidies, and often jab at each other in the press. But the European company is most likely glad to cede the spotlight to Boeing as it puts more pressure on the Chicago-based firm to actually deliver the finished plane to customers from May next year.
Airbus itself has learned the dangers of over-exposure when its giant A380 superjumbo — unveiled amid massive celebration in 2005 — later stumbled on wiring problems, putting it two years behind schedule.
Boeing’s new plane will not leave the ground until its first test flight in late August or September. First deliveries are expected by Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. next May, in time to carry passengers to the Beijing Olympics that summer.
Forty-six other airlines and leasing companies are lining up behind ANA to take delivery of 787s, which will be wider, quicker and more fuel efficient than the 767s they are designed to replace. They offer thousands of miles in extra range, making direct routes such as Tokyo to New York easier and cheaper to operate.
On Saturday, German low-cost carrier Air Berlin ordered 25 of the planes, worth $4 billion, while Kuwait’s Aviation Lease and Finance Co. ordered another 10, on top of the 12 it already had on order.
That puts the number of firm orders for 787s at 677. That number is set to grow further as Australian carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. said on Friday it planned to order another 20 of the planes, on top of the 45 it has already agreed to buy.
More customer announcements may crop up on Sunday as airlines look to cash in on the publicity surrounding Boeing’s unveiling ceremony, which is set for 3:30 p.m. local time (2230 GMT).
Boeing is beaming the event, to be hosted by former TV news anchor Tom Brokaw, live via satellite to what it hopes will be millions of viewers around the world.