As Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner begins its second decade, the promises that this first composite airliner will fly farther, cheaper and with less fuel burn than previous generations have been clearly demonstrated. 630 aircraft are currently in service with 45 airlines on every continent, with Boeing citing 218 million passengers over 2.9 billion revenue miles during 6.5 million revenue flight hours.
But beyond the numbers, the 787 has opened up numerous new routes since its introduction, adding weight to Boeing’s arguments about the Dreamliner shifting the hub-and-spoke model towards point-to-point service, although Australia’s position within Airbus A330 range of China has meant that much of the 787 effect here has been adding new nonstop hub flights rather than new destinations.
A large part of Jetstar’s expanded post-A330 international network has developed since the introduction of the 787, while offerings like United’s new Sydney-Houston route, its nonstop LA-Melbourne flight, Qantas’s upcoming* Perth-London service, and Air India’s Australia operation, rely on the economics and performance of the Dreamliner.
“The 787 has flown over 1,500 total routes, and has made possible over 170 new nonstop routes to connect the world like never before,” Boeing regional director of product marketing Tarun Hazari says.
“These are nonstop markets that never existed. So network and fleet planners basically started off from a clean canvas and created these routes that are now extremely profitable.”
The aircraft also continues to enable changes for existing routes, creating major efficiency gains when replacing four-engined aircraft like the Airbus A340-300 (LATAM) and Boeing 747-400 (Qantas, United), or allowing airlines capacity flexibility compared with currently operating twinjets like the A330-200/300 or 777-200ER (Vietnam Airlines, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand).
787-10 certification is the latest chapter in the Dreamliner story
Boeing’s latest Dreamliner model, the 787-10, achieved its amended type certificate for the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-powered version from the US Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year.
“The certificate is a major milestone,” Boeing’s Bob Whittington explains, “as it officially clears the airplane for commercial service. We secured ATC on Friday, January 19, after demonstrating the quality, safety, and reliability of the type design. Following first flights in March, May, and June of 2017, our three test airplanes were taken through an assortment of tests to validate our design, and to confirm handling, systems, reliability, and overall performance.”
“Our test programs spanned about 900 flight hours, and took us to a variety of locations including the US states of Texas, California and Colorado, to name a few, and Newfoundland in Canada. We also made two appearances at airshows in Paris and Dubai,” he says.
“Throughout the test program the airplanes operated as designed and as expected. The 787-10 is over 95 per cent common with the -9. The test program was smooth. We predicted a quiet test program, and we delivered. Our next steps are continue to work with other validating agencies as we work toward the first delivery to the launch customer, Singapore Airlines in the first half of the year. We’re eager to fulfil our customer orders. We currently have 171 orders in backlog from nine leading customers.”
In addition to Singapore Airlines, Air France, All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, EVA Air, United Airlines, plus lessors GECAS and Air Lease Corporation, together with eight aircraft for unidentified customer(s), have ordered the jet.
For the 787-10, Whittington explains, “we are complete with all flight testing required for the delivery. First delivery is to Singapore in the Rolls-Royce family. There is a little bit more testing to be done for the GE-powered airplanes a little bit later on. The typical way we certify the airplanes, the FAA gives us our amended type certificate, and has for the 787-10. Beyond that, then each of the airlines will get a validation from their regulatory agencies prior to taking delivery. So every foreign carrier will line up with a new validation program that’s unique to each operator.”
VIDEO – This Boeing Youtube clip highlights 787-10 performance flight testing.
Designed for long-haul, but not ultra long-haul, flights, the -10’s example range doesn’t quite reach the US east coast from Sydney.
“The 787-10 Dreamliner is a game changer to the market. It’s the newest and longest member of our family. As a stretch of the -9 airplane, it adds a lot more seats and cargo capacity, really setting a new benchmark for fuel efficiency and operating economics. In fact, it’s got the lowest CASM or cost per available seat mile in the industry,” Boeing’s Tarun Hazari argues.
“It’s capable of flying 330 passengers over 6,400 nautical miles, or almost 12,000 kilometres. This second derivative offers basically 25 per cent better fuel per seat and emissions than the airplanes it replaces, making it the absolute most efficient twin available today.”
“When you combine it with all the passenger pleasing features of the 787 family, which everyone’s familiar with – the spacious cabin and windows, the large bins, the higher humidity, smooth ride technology – it truly is second to none. It really accentuates the family,” Hazari continues.
“Most noteworthy, however, from an environmental perspective, our planes have saved over 21 billion pounds of fuel. The 787-10 will make the perfect addition to the fleet, unlocking enhanced efficiency never before seen. We’re all eagerly awaiting its first delivery and entry into service.”
The 787 family is flexible around performance, both between and within models
The launch 787-8, 57m long, carries Boeing’s example case of 242 passengers in a two-class configuration over 7,355nm. The mid-sized 787-9 measures 63m in length, accommodating an indicative 290 passengers with a range of 7,635nm. The newest aircraft, the 787-10, is stretched to 68m and Boeing uses a 330-passenger model to give a range of 6,430nm.
Commonality between models is a concern for many operators, and Boeing has seen success here. “We heard from our customers quite clearly, that they loved the -9, and the closer we could make the -10 to both the -8 and the -9, the better off it would be,” Boeing’s Bob Whittington explains.
“It clearly made our job easier in the certification program. Having the -10 be so close to the -9 allowed us to shrink the flight test program significantly.”
By contrast, as far as the percentage goes between the 787‑8 and -9, Boeing’s Tarun Hazari explains, “it’s in the upper 70s as far as commonality, when you talk about the recommended spare parts list, which is a benchmark that we use for commonality. I would say as a family we’re definitely in the low to mid 80s combining the -8, -9, and -10. The -9 and -10, 95 per cent commonality, and I would say upper 70s for the -8 and -9. That’s an approximation.”
Returning to the passenger and range numbers, for all airframers these are both linked and indirectly proportional – and also a little murky in the part they play in manufacturers’ performance promises.
At its most simplest, the principle is that the fewer passengers on board, the greater the range. Jetstar’s 787-8, for example, carries 21 passengers in recliner business class seats and 314 in economy: 93 more than Boeing’s example. Jetstar cites a range of 5,500nm for this aircraft, 1,855nm less than Boeing’s standard data.
Japan Airlines, meanwhile, carries only 161 passengers in its long-haul 787-8 configuration (where half the aircraft is fully flat Rockwell Collins Apex seats in business class, and only one third is economy, with even that the very spacious eight-abreast configuration), 81 fewer than Boeing and almost half of Jetstar’s capacity.
That allows JAL to quote a range of 7,990nm for the aircraft, nearly 2,500nm more than Jetstar, almost the distance from Sydney or Melbourne to Denpasar in Bali.
Weight has always been a crucial consideration for airliners, particularly long-haul jets. But these differences in range highlight the extent to which modern airlines make decisions about outfitting their aircraft, and indeed why Qantas needs a different aircraft for its Project Sunrise ultra long-haul nonstop ambitions.
“Orange you glad you ordered the 787?”
When Jetstar became the first airline in Australasia – and one of the first low-cost carriers in the world – to fly the 787 in 2013, the aircraft revolutionised the way that passengers fly long-haul. Nearly seven million passengers have flown on Jetstar’s 787s alone, travelling on routes to Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, China, and Honolulu in the United States.
“The ideal distance for our 787 fleet operationally and economically is between 3,500 to 4,500nm”, Jetstar’s 787 team tells Australian Aviation via an airline spokesperson.
“This aircraft has improved the travel experience for our customers and it has given us a competitive advantage in the rapidly growing Asian LCC sector,” the airline says. “Our customers have been able to enjoy the aircraft’s more space and comfort, less noise, bigger windows, gate to gate entertainment and the best Jetstar service.”
On board the airline’s eleven 787-8 aircraft, three rows of large recliners in a 2-3-2 configuration make up the 21 Jetstar business class seats, with the 314 economy class seats in their 3-3-3 layout stretch from ahead of doors two to the very back of the cabin.
In addition to the operational efficiency of newer, carbon-fibre aircraft compared with the older A330-200 jets the airline previously operated, “from an operational point of view, the introduction of the 787 has led to significantly lower use of fuel with increased cruise speed and higher altitude capability,” Jetstar says, noting that “the 787 also records a better rate of successful approaches in poor weather conditions, with increased situational awareness for flight crew through enhanced displays, (eg, vertical profile display and heads-up display).”
That operational knowledge is already being transferred within the Qantas Group -– one marked advantage of having a subsidiary airline operate a new aircraft before the parent carrier.
“Jetstar has been able to share the experience with Qantas after four years operating eleven Boeing 787‑8s. Jetstar pilots have been training Qantas pilots, both in the simulator and on the line, and our engineers have been sharing their learnings with Qantas engineers on the maintenance requirements of the aircraft,” the airline explains.
The big question for Jetstar’s Dreamliners is what’s next. Competitors like Scoot have already taken the larger 787-9 version that Qantas is also taking, although in February the Qantas Group allowed one 787-9 option to lapse, so immediate expansion for Jetstar’s long-haul services seems unlikely. That’s particularly true given the rise in inbound traffic from international carriers from growth destinations like China.
Looking to the future for Jetstar’s 787 operations, “We’ll continue to operate the 787 on our international network. The Qantas Group has 45 options and purchase rights for the 787, which have flexible delivery dates right through the next decade and the flexibility to be deployed across the Group.”
All in all, “the 787 aircraft have been fundamental in the success of Jetstar’s long-haul operation. They are more fuel efficient, they require less maintenance and, importantly, our customers love them.”
The 787’s passenger experience continues to be a mixed bag
Previous generations of mostly metallic airliners standardised on a cabin pressurisation of approximately 8,000ft. Much of the altitude-related malaise of flying, including jetlag, dehydration and lower oxygen levels, result from the combination of a higher cabin altitude and low moisture in the air.
New carbon fibre aircraft, of which the 787 was the first, can be pressurised to around 6,000ft, and can handle a more humid atmosphere. That 2,000ft reduction might not sound much, and indeed when the Dreamliner entered into service, early passengers wondered whether the promised benefits of the lower cabin pressurisation would come true.
For the most part, they have. Quite apart from manufacturer-produced empirical data, the 787 and Airbus’s A350 are in wide enough circulation that passengers can compare like for like flights and have felt it for themselves.
VIDEO – Inside Jetstar’s Boeing 787-8.
The 787’s larger windows, too, have proven largely popular, although the electronic dimming of the windows does not always meet with passenger acclaim, particularly since flight attendants can override individual controls and plunge the cabin into total darkness.
Despite these improvements, however, the 787 has not brought an overall upgrade in passenger experience for most passengers – quite the opposite.
When Boeing originally advertised the Dreamliner, it was with some of the widest economy class seats in the industry in an eight-abreast configuration. Only ANA and Japan Airlines took delivery of this layout, and only JAL’s long-haul 787s remain with seats arranged 2-4-2.
This densification is not unusual in the history of commercial aviation. The 747 was originally delivered to many airlines in a nine-abreast layout before being universally retrofitted to 3-4-3, as was the narrower 777. The problem is that passengers are simply not the size they were in the 777’s 1990s, let alone the 747’s 1960s. While regional differences remain, better nutrition and other factors mean that people taking their first long-haul flight on a 787 are taller and broader than people whose first flight was on a 747.
Indeed, the 787 in nine-abreast configuration gives the least amount of personal space of any widebody airliner in widespread service. (Long-haul low-cost carriers and leisure operators like AirAsia X, Cebu Pacific or France’s Air Caraïbes operate nine-abreast A330s and ten-abreast A350s with narrower seats, but these are by no means the primary configuration for the A330 or A350.)
Airlines would, of course, argue that with the advent of premium economy passengers who want more space have an option to buy it, and the Dreamliner’s standard 2-3-2 premium economy configuration is indeed very comfortable. From the traveller perspective, however, premium economy is between 1.5 and 3 times the price of economy on most routes, a multiplier that is not feasible for all or even many passengers — or airlines would install more of these seats. Indeed, numerous airlines and airframers readily admit that premium economy is the most profitable real estate on the aircraft.
Business class too, is often tricky on the Dreamliner. Early buyers of the delayed aircraft ended up locked into older seats that have not aged well, with angled lie-flat seats and fully flat beds that lack the now almost mandatory direct aisle access ripe for replacement.
The fact that the 787’s regular maintenance intervals are further apart is a benefit in many ways, althought that does provide fewer cabin upgrade windows.
In business class, the yields from which often make the difference between the success and failure of a route, the cross-section of the Dreamliner is notably narrower than the slightly larger A350 and the much larger 777. The narrower cabin creates design, space and safety certification challenges for airlines trying to create direct aisle access products, particularly those in the popular herringbone configuration.
The passenger experience world has moved on from where it was when the size of the 787 was selected, and like the 777 before it — where the half-a-generation derivative 777X will sculpt out extra inches from the sidewalls — the time seems ripe for cabin upgrades in particular.
Where next for the 787?
After more than a decade since rollout and, next year, a decade since its first flight, Boeing has yet to reveal any kind of technology roadmap for the 787, whether for incremental cabin interior updates or incorporating improvements in systems and technologies that have been developed since the Dreamliner’s design was finalised a decade and a half ago.
That is in contrast to the approximate amount of time between, for example, the Boeing 777’s 1995 entry into service for the first generation (-200/-200ER/300), second generation (-200LR, -300ER) nine years later in 2004, and third generation (-8/9) planned for 2019.
On the subject of the 777, Boeing’s Tarun Hazari explains, “We’ve continuously improved and made those more valuable to our airline based on customer needs. With the 787, we see the same thing happening. We will continue to evolve. We will continue to make “it better and even more competitive”.
Referring back to the 767’s passenger version’s development – curtailed by the 787, with many arguing then and now that simultaneous production of both airliners would have been a smarter move – Hazari says, “if you remember back in the day with the 767, once the 777 came out, we came out with this beautiful 767 Signature Interior that really enhanced the cabin.”
“When we put that into the 767,” Hazari notes, “the responses we got back after we did the surveys and the research studies much, much preferred that interior compared to the old 767 interior.”
“We see those things happening with the 787 family, incremental advancements and improvements, as we’ve done with all of our models.”
PERFECT TEN? The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 awaits next generation
After major fleet groundings by operators of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners with “Package C” Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, airlines are anxiously awaiting deliveries of replacements — whether of fixed older Package C powerplants or the newer Trent 1000 TEN that succeeded it.
Fatigue cracking of turbine blades caused by corrosion has caused significant early blade wear and concern among operators. Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been among the worst affected.
“We identified an issue with sulphidation on Intermediate Pressure Turbine (IPT) Blades back in 2016,” a spokesperson for Rolls-Royce tells Australian Aviation.
“In simple terms the part was affected by corrosion fatigue, and therefore needed replacing sooner than forecasted. We have a modified standard for this blade which is available both for new deliveries and for engine overhaul. A long-term maintenance plan was put in place for the replacement of IPT blades and is ongoing today – the parts are only replaced as required, depending on usage. Since the IPT blade upgrade work started we have identified a small number of other improvements and checks that need to be made to various populations of engines – not all engines are affected by all issues.”
“Right now,” Boeing’s 787 chief project engineer Bob Whittington notes, “of all the operators across the fleet, it is primarily limited to the Package C Rolls-Royce engine. I don’t have the exact number… but you can take it as all of the Rolls-Royce operators across the fleet have seen some of the wear out issues in the Rolls-Royce engine.”
In August, Rolls-Royce told investors that the wear issues affected some 400‑500 of the Trent 1000 engines. Aviation safety authorities continue to investigate and have issued airworthiness directives concerning these engines.
Boeing, Whittington says, is not shying away from the issue. “I would take issue with the idea that this is not a Boeing problem. They’re Boeing customers, they’re Boeing airplanes. And we’re deeply involved with Rolls-Royce every single day to try to help each of the operators get the airplanes back flying as soon as possible.
“We’re engaged all the time. I do expect the TEN engine to be their primary source, the driver, in the fleet. But we’re working really hard to get the airlines, like Air New Zealand, back in the air. We understand how difficult it is, and we’re linked very closely with Rolls,” says Whittington.
“It’s not uncommon for long‑term programs to experience these types of issues and we are well placed to manage them,” Rolls-Royce’s spokesperson says.
“Over the life of the Trent 1000 engine we have accumulated Continuous Parameter Logging data (an intensive form of engine health monitoring) from over 100,000 flights across six operators, giving us unparalleled insight into the engine. When combined with our typical engine health monitoring data, this gives us a wealth of insight into the performance of a specific engine, allowing expert engineers in our Derby-based Aircraft Availability Centre to ensure we undertake maintenance as required and manage issues proactively.”
However, Rolls-Royce concedes, “Despite our absolute commitment to minimising customer disruption, the removal rate of engines has at times been higher than the rate at which we’ve been able to recover engines meaning that our customers have experienced disruption. In these cases, we have apologised to our customers. We expect any disruption caused to gradually reduce through 2018 and are taking additional measures such as adding engines to our lease pool to help relieve pressure in the system.”
*This feature article first appeared in the March 2018 issue of Australian Aviation.