Boeing 787 - Dreamliner

Dreamliner, also known as the Boeing 787, is a twin engine, midsized aircraft under development by Boeing Company in its Everett facility. The aircraft was proposed to be launched in late 2007, however due to production problems and design issues it was postponed several times and had only recently taken its first flight on 15th December, 2009.

The Dreamliner 787 (image embedded from Aeroviation on 31 July 2009)

The aircraft was designed to be more efficient and cost effective to operate than similar sized models, in order to accommodate with the lower cost operational requirements of airlines nowadays. The Dreamliner is also the first airliner to use a composite material on the majority of its build, which makes the aircraft lighter and less likely to have rust issues compared to the traditional metal birds. Here we explore the history behind this historical day for Boeing.

B787's Initiatives

The B787’s initial was to be a more efficient aircraft with enhanced technology, which would bring down its customers operation costs. This was a crucial decision for rescuing Boeing’s credibility from two major abandoned projects since 2000, namely the Sonic Cruiser and the 747-X. It is an important new product for Boeing in it's ambition to regain it's first position in the aircraft manufacturing market from it’s strong and fast growing competitor, Airbus.

(Lawrence & Thornton, 2005 4)

Key features of B787 that was intended to achieve improved efficiency (compared to same-sized aircraft)

  • 20% more fuel efficient
  • costs 30% less in maintenance
  • extracts 35% less power with its innovative architectural structure
  • 50% of composite materials (carbon fiber reinforced plastic)- a recyclable, lighter plastic material and requires less maintenance
  • smaller in size but can travel at the same speed as a B747
  • generates 10% better cash seat mile costs to airlines
  • generates 60% more cargo capacity

(Boeing, 2009 1) & (Kemp, 2006 3).

For the above reasons, the industry raised very high expectations to this innovative new aircraft, and many airlines supported the idea with massive orders (seeAirline’s with B787 orders) .

B787's Fact Sheet


  • 787-3: 290-330 passengers

The 787-3 is the short-range variation of the 787 family with winglets and shorter wingspan; its range is between 2,500 to 3,050 nautical miles; this would be the ideal aircraft to service shorter routes within the region, and allow airlines to operate their closer destinations with a lower cost compared to similar sized aircraft types.
This aircraft variation particularly attracts low-cost carriers and also a preferred option for full-service airlines to substitute their mid-sized aircraft in order to reduce operational costs and be able to be more competitive to their low-cost competitors.

  • 787-8: 210-250 passengers

The 787-8 is the base model and most popular version of the 787 family, and had made its maiden flight on 15th December, 2009. It has a range of 7,650 to 8,200 nautical miles (14,200 to 15,200 kilometers) which is capable of making long journeys comparable to even large-sized aircraft.

The aircraft is targeted to allow its customers travel it’s long-haul distances into hubs that may not have the facility to accommodate large aircraft; apart from the targeted cost-effectiveness that the aircraft is designed to achieve, this may potentially mean airlines that wish to fly point-to-point services into secondary hubs to save airport charges and avoid congestion in many popular airports and gain strategic advantage by purchasing the 787-8 fleet.

  • 787-9: 250-290 passengers

The 787-9 is the extended variation in the 787 family, and provides the largest range of 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles (14,800 to 15,750 kilometers). This variation has a lengthened fuselage and a higher fuel capacity compared to the base model. This will allow more capacity for cargo, and the capability of stretching further destinations for point-to-point services.

This variation will potentially bring more revenue sources to it’s customers as the aircraft has a longer fuselage enabling airlines to carry more cargo per flight, or change the configuration to carry more passengers if the load factor for that route has such demand. The 787-9 is targeted for airlines that wish to replace their larger fleet without cutting down on their current capacity, but to be more cost-efficient.

  • Refer to Boeing for list of individual specifications.

B787 Orders

Below reflects a summary of total orders placed and cancellations between the periods of 2003-2010.

Year 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 (through 16, March) Total
Gross Orders 56 235 160 369 94 24 25 963
Cancellations 0 14 27 26 24 83 10 184

(Boeing, 2010 2)

B787’s Interior

The interior of the B787 had been specifically designed to increase comfort of travellers and flexibility to airline customers to the way they prefer to deliver their brand.

  • Take a tour to the B787 interior with an introduction by Boeing’s marketing personnel
(Video embedded from YouTube on 2nd April 2010)
  • Mood lights:
The Dreamliner 787 Interior (image embedded from Boeing on 2nd April 2010)

The mood light settings such as cabin colours, or timing of light changing to represent sunrise and sunset allows airlines to create differentiation between cabins and class; and also deliver an environment to their customers that reflects the time of the day to help passengers adjust their biological clock and increase comfort during the flight. The cabin lights are aligned over the ceiling and along the sidewalls, and use full colour spectrum LED lights so airlines can easily customise their lighting with a range of colours to choose from.

  • Large windows:
The Dreamliner 787 Large Windows (image embedded from Boeing on 2nd April 2010)

The revolutionary concept is that the Dreamliner will have 48cm (19-inch) wide windows that eliminate the traditional plastic shades so passengers can have the widest view during the flight amongst all other airliners. In substitution of the conventional plastic shades are electric chromic films between the glasses of the windows, passengers can adjust the degree of tint on their window and therefore will be able to still view the outside while their neighbour is resting; this feature will also benefit cabin crew as they will have control over all shades and can adjust to their safety requirements during taking off and landing without disturbing passengers.

  • Larger stowbins:
The Dreamliner 787 Stowbins (image embedded from Boeing on 2nd April 2010)

The overhead stowbins are much larger than other aircraft, allowing passengers to fit 11 x 16 x 22 dimension suitcases and increase storage space for crew. Apart from more space and better comfort during the flight, this will also enhance safety as passengers have more space to stow away their luggage, which means there will be less need to have bags and loose items under seats or on the aisle causing potential hazards.

  • Seating flexibility:
The Dreamliner 787 Entryway (image embedded from Boeing on 2nd April 2010)

There will be a larger degree of flexibility given to airlines for their options of seating configuration in the aircraft. Boeing had especially noticed the growing demand of a “Premium Economy” class and the diminishing demand in the traditional First Class. Seating arrangements can be between any configuration of 6-9 abreast with customised seat pitch, legroom, seat material and colours. Apart from that, the option to remove the galley and create a welcoming hallway at the boarding area of the aircraft had introduced increased flexibility to customer airlines if they consider that extra space to comply with their brand delivery, i.e. a more spacious and welcoming flight experience.

B787’s Exterior

Two major features of the B787 are the engines and the composite material used in substitution of the conventional aircraft building material.

  • Engine:

The engines are specially designed by General Electric and Rolls-Royce to increase efficiency. Customers can choose between the two engines shall their operational requirements change as the interface of the two engines are standard; which increases the flexibility for customers. There are also engine nacelles which feature serrated edges that reduce noise produced by the engines.

Engine nacelles (image embedded from Wikipedia- Boeing 787 on 4th April 2010)
  • Composite material:

Up to 50% of the aircraft is made up of composite materials which are made by carbon fibre reinforce plastic- a recyclable material that had never been used on an aircraft before. The concept of this material was to be able to reduce the weight of the aircraft, hence increasing efficiency and lessening the need for maintenance. As suggested by Boeing, this new material will enable the aircraft to reduce the use of 1,500 aluminium sheets and 40,000-50,000 fasteners.
There is however debate over the actual cost reduction in using such material. Although the composite material will decrease the corrosion and rust of metal pieces, however the material makes it difficult for aircraft mechanics to observe any rust or cracks easily as it is not a common material; there is also a problem of maintenance, as airlines will then need to invest in equipment especially designed to detect malfunction and faulty of the composite material and replacement will be scarce and costly. Unless the whole fleet is made up of the new B787, otherwise it is unlikely that the customer will easily have a dedicated team to deal with such problems. Moreover, it had been debated that the “recycle” feature of this material is more of less a joke. The recycled material is much weaker, and in the process of producing and burning the composite material produces more toxic fume than all other materials used in the aircraft.

1. BOEING (2009). Dreamliner. Retrieved from Boeing on 26 February 2009
2. BOEING (2010). Orders and deliveries. Retrieved from Boeing on 18 March 2010
3. KEMP K (2006). Flight of the titans: Boeing, Airbus and the battle for the future of air travel. Virgin Books (London, UK), 2006.
4. LAWRENCE PK & THORNTON DW (2005). Deep stall: the turbulent story of Boeing commercial airplanes. Ashgate (Cornwall), 2005.

Want to know more?

787 Dreamliner
The official website created by Boeing, contains detailed specifications and features of the Dreamliner, and also updates in the manufacturing process.
LAWRENCE PK & DW THORNTON (2005). Deep stall: the turbulent story of Boeing commercial airplanes. Ashgate (Cornwall), 2005.
Great reading to understand the story behind why the B787 was designed and built, i.e. what were the motivations, why did Boeing design a mid-sized aircraft and not another mega jumbo jet? This book is very interesting background reading material.
Wikipedia-Boeing 787
A wikipedia page created by other authors for the Boeing 787, contains interesting information and material from other author’s point of view.

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Amber WanAmber Wan

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