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Dreamliner needs Jenny Craig; first plane reported to be 21,500 lbs overweight

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Oct. 5, 2011 at 7:20 am with No Comments »
October 5, 2011 1:49 pm

The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner delivered to launch customer All Nippon Airways last month was nearly 11 tons overweight, an aviation journal is reporting.

Aspire Aviation says the plane’s avoirdupois is the subject of a diet that is gradually squeezing excess pounds out of the the later planes in the production process. It may take until plane 90, however, that all the extra poundage is eliminated, Aspire said.

That diet consists of a painstaking effort to find areas where the plane was overbuilt or where alternate materials or design could shed pounds. As those changes are incorporated into subsequent planes, the weight drops and performance guarantees are met.

To add to the woes of the first planes out of the factory, aviation sources say the new engines mounted on the first production Dreamliners aren’t meeting their fuel economy promises.

Engines from both Rolls-Royce (whose engines power the All Nippon aircraft) and General Electric are falling short of their fuel economy goals by two to four percent.

Both engine makers have modifications in the pipeline, but those more economical engines are destined for later production versions of the 787.

It was an engine economy shortfall that recently delayed the delivery of the first new 747-8 Freighter to launch customer CargoLux. Those GE engines are similar to the engines used on the Dreamliner.

When the performance guarantees aren’t met, Boeing and the engine makers, negotiate compensation to the airlines. Boeing doesn’t reveal the size of that compensation or the money it is paying for the three-plus years’ delay in delivery of the Dreamliner. But analysts say that extra expense could add billions to Boeing’s costs for creating and delivering the new plane.

Such issues are not uncommon with the first few aircraft in a new series as the planemaker makes fine-tuning adjustments to meet the targets it told its customers it would reach.

Launch customers get bargain prices on new aircraft and the bragging rights that go with being the first with the newest. But the price is often that they must live with the teething problems that go with a new product.

When PanAm, for instance, took delivery of the first 747s in the late ’60s, the plane’s engines, the first of a new generation of jumbo power plants, were notoriously unreliable.

The 747 scheduled for the first commercial 747 flight in January 1970 developed overheated engines while taxiing, and another 747 was substituted.

All Nippon says it will use the first planes of the series, the overweight aircraft, on regional flights and use the more svelte aircraft delivered later for long overseas flights.

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