September 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 5 
Commercial Airplanes

Exponential potential

Similarities between 777, 787 help airlines, passengers and Boeing


Boeing has a perfect 10-for-10 record of success in introducing new airplanes. With the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing plans to be 11-for-11.

The Boeing 777, the company's most recent new airplane in production, broke new ground in technology, design and innovation. It also set the standard for passenger comfort.

So it makes sense that when Boeing began designing the 787 Dreamliner, engineers looked to the 777 program and its successes. The 787 is taking the best from the 777 program a step further, supplementing "lessons learned" with new technologies, bringing even greater capability to the middle of the market—200 to 300 seats.

As a result, the airplanes are designed to be complementary, benefiting customers, Boeing and the flying public. For airlines, this similarity—known as "commonality"—reduces variability, simplifies operations, and improves airplane reliability. This gives operators real economic benefits: decreased costs and higher revenues.

Here's a look at some of the ways that commonality between the 777 and 787 helps airlines and passengers.

A boost to operations

There are many aspects of airline operations that will get a boost from commonality, Commercial Airlines representatives said. Among them:

Crew training. Airlines that fly both 777 and 787 models will benefit from proposed flight deck commonality between the airplanes. Boeing is targeting a five-day transition between 777 and 787, lower than the current typical eight-day transition between the 777 and other models. "Because of commonality to the 777 that will be built into the 787, we anticipate transition time to be significantly reduced," said Tom Cogan, 787 Program chief engineer.

Simplified fleet and route planning. The 787 will offer the lowest trip costs per passenger in the industry, Commercial Airplanes representatives said. Because the 787 can serve both short- and long-range routes efficiently, the 787 and larger-capacity 777 teaming will simplify airlines' fleets, letting carriers match capacity with demand without affecting schedules or routes.

Fuel efficiency. Carriers that operate the 777 and 787 will benefit from lower overall operating costs, thanks to the airplanes' dramatically reduced fuel consumption. The 777 is renowned for its operating economics; the 787 will be the most fuel-efficient airplane flying. Cogan said the 787 will provide 3,700 kilometers (2,000 nautical miles) more range and will consume 20 percent less fuel than its competitor on comparable routes.

Composites. The 787 will contain approximately 50 percent composite material. Cogan said Boeing learned a lot about composite materials from the 777, which has a substantial amount of composites. "Airlines that operate 777s are finding that composites are performing exceptionally well," Cogan said.

About half of Boeing's 787 customers either already have 777s in their fleet or have ordered the two airplanes, including commitments to order. Air New Zealand is one such customer, having purchased 10 777s and 787s in 2004, with rights to purchase up to 42 more. The airplanes' complementary nature played a role in the airline's decision.

"The purchase rights will give us the ability to choose from a range of aircraft types that best suit our long-haul business as it develops in the future," said Ralph Norris, CEO of Air New Zealand. "These aircraft will allow us to develop new routes and increase frequency on existing routes as well as provide an overall increase in both passenger and cargo capacity."

Built-in complement

Commonality in manufacturing has long shown cost-saving benefits. It's at the heart of Lean manufacturing principles. Commonality in design lowers design costs, can lead to a shorter design time, and results in less risk in the aircraft certification process. It also means better reliability and safety at launch.

"The design of the 777 was a technological breakthrough," said Todd Zarfos, 777 chief engineer. The design process used concurrent product definition in the early stages, focusing primarily on design and manufacturing integration—meaning engineers designed a product that's economical to both manufacture and operate, he said.

The 787 program is capitalizing on concurrent product definition as well, using advanced tools to design the aircraft. Where the 777 program pioneered CATIA version 3, the 787 program is using the latest technology—CATIA version 5—to design the airplane.

Streamlined design also means simplicity in aircraft systems. The 787 is being designed so that systems on the aircraft can be upgraded as technologies advance. Case in point: The planned single advanced auxiliary power unit that will supply electrical power to certain airplane systems could be replaced with a fuel cell as fuel-cell technology emerges, Cogan said.

Preferred by passengers

Passengers also stand to gain from commonality. With surveys showing that travelers prefer flying on the 777, the 787 is Boeing's most aggressive foray into designing an airplane that appeals to fliers.

The 787's interior cabin design is blending the best ideas from the 777's Signature Interior with new innovations, Cogan said. As a result, passengers will appreciate features such as wider seats, wider aisles and larger overhead stowage bins.

Point-to-point travel is also of value to passengers. The smaller 787s will complement routes flown by 777s, opening up more city pairs at greater distances than current medium-sized, twin-aisle jets can fly. According to Cogan, the 787 will fly 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles at speeds of Mach 0.85—ranges equivalent to much larger aircraft today.

And finally, passengers will value the complementary safety goals of the 777 and 787 programs. All Boeing airplanes strive to meet the highest safety standards—not just as required by regulatory agencies, but to Boeing's even more stringent standards. The 777 has an excellent safety record, and Cogan said the 787 program's safety goals are the same as the 777's.

What's next?

There are many advantages to designing and operating complementary aircraft, so it's no surprise that other Boeing commercial airplane programs are looking to use 787 technologies. Zarfos said studies are under way to determine what 787 features would make sense to implement on other Commercial Airplanes programs.

"It's logical to think the 777 program will take advantage of elements the 787 breaks ground on," Zarfos said. "The potential is exponential."


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