SEATTLE -- Chicago-based Boeing Co. began flying its first bigger 787 Dreamliner Tuesday, a step toward getting the jet into commercial service in 2014 without the delays or drama that marked the debut of the original model.
Aircraft ZB001 took off at 11:02 a.m. local time from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, next to the factory where it was built, Boeing said in a message on Twitter. The flight plan's route heads east over Idaho for a trip that was to last about four hours before ending at Boeing Field, near downtown Seattle.
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Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney is weighing a speedup in output beyond the 10-a-month goal for year's end as he gains confidence that Boeing has solved the assembly and other snags that left the initial 787 and a redesigned 747 jumbo jet years behind schedule.
"The 747-8 and 787-8 were challenging programs, but we're applying what we learned through a disciplined management model for development programs," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of airplane development. "We're starting to reap the benefits on programs" such as the 787-9.
Boeing began factory work on the larger jet on a specific day the company had set 2 1/2 years earlier after developing a new system, Fancher said in an interview last month. The process gives it closer control over every aspect of a plane's development, from isolating potential risks to pacing daily work, he said.
Boeing plans to hand over the first 787-9 to Air New Zealand Ltd. by mid-2014, Doug Alder, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail. The planemaker plans to produce three dedicated flight-test planes, and to include two jets configured as production models in later trials, Alder said.
The 787-9 has a list price of $249.5 million and seats 250 to 290 people, 40 more than the 787-8. Boeing stretched the wide-body plane's composite fuselage by 20 feet (six meters) to 206 feet in length and redesigned it to be more aerodynamic.
Boeing is extending the range to as much as 8,500 nautical miles (15,750 kilometers), about 300 nautical miles more than the 787-8. Boeing has garnered 936 Dreamliner orders by touting the ability of the twin-engine plane to serve long-haul routes without the expense of a jumbo jet.
The 787-9 is in "that sweet spot from the long-haul perspective," Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing's commercial aircraft business, said on a company webcast after the plane was aloft. The new plane offers fuel savings of 20 percent and "maybe even a little bit better than that" over comparably sized aircraft.