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How the Boeing Dreamliner Works

The Finished Product

The first of two Dreamliner variants, the 787-8, was delivered to Boeing's launch partner, All Nippon Airways, on Sept. 27, 2011. The 787-8, which weighs 35 percent less than the Boeing 777-200LR, can hold around 240 passengers and is the first midsize twin aisle aircraft that will be able to fly 7,650-8,200 nautical miles (14,200-15,000 kilometers) in one go [source: Boeing].

The 787-9, which will be rolled out in 2014, will have a longer fuselage. It will be able to carry 250-290 passengers for a jaunt of 8,000-8,500 nautical miles (14,800-15,750 kilometers). General Electric and Rolls-Royce manufacture engines for the Dreamliners, and both use advanced technologies that increase fuel efficiency and decrease noise. Thanks to the lighter weight, improved aerodynamics and engines of the Dreamliners, they will burn 20 percent less fuel than any other existing similar sized aircraft [source: Boeing]. How much are we talking? Well, a flight from Los Angles to Narita, Japan, will cost airlines approximately $12,600 less in fuel on the Dreamliner when compared to the Boeing 777 [source: Hennigan].

All Nippon Airways initially planned to use the 787-8 on regular flights to Beijing, Frankfurt and Hong Kong starting in November 2011. Although Boeing's production and delivery woes caused some cancellations in orders, Boeing still had more than 800 orders from 53 customers worldwide for the Dreamliner in 2011, which costs around $202 million each. Before the battery woes, the company had hoped to be churning out 10 per month by 2013 [source: Hepher].

Airlines will be able to customize cabin interiors more extensively than before with individualized color schemes and branding. The 787-8 is available in three different configurations:

  1. 234 passengers in a three-class configuration
  2. 240 in two classes
  3. 296 people in a high-density, all economy configuration

The Dreamliner operated mostly from Eurasia initially -- ANA, Japan Airlines and Air India had a total of 117 planes on order to be delivered in 2011 between them. United Airlines became the first carrier in North America to put the plane into flight; it had a total of six, as of January 2013. As more Dreamliners are delivered, new long-range routes will connect cities that until now have not had nonstop flights. For instance, once the Dreamliner is added to its fleet, United Continental Holdings plans to add nonstop service between Auckland, New Zealand, and Houston, Texas, representing United's first direct flight to New Zealand from North America [source: PR Newswire].

Due to its efficiency, the Dreamliner promises to make more nonstop, long-haul flights possible for travelers. Will that passenger-friendly interior make them more bearable? Time will tell. One thing is for sure: Composite technology and lithium ion batteries promise to play a big role in aircraft construction in the future.