Boeing's 787 Leaves Us Hanging

In our Fast 50 issue, we praised Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner for its lightweight construction and streamlined design—features that contribute to the aircraft's remarkable fuel efficiency. The interior of the plane is roomy, with wider seats and aisles, and it has cool passenger-comfort features like overhead lighting that imitates the changing colors of the sky and a cabin that is pressurized at lower altitudes. Aviation geeks who were present when the prototype was unveiled last July described it as an almost religious experience.

But a big question remains: When will it be ready? The 787 was supposed to make its maiden flight last year, but instead has hit one production delay after another. The latest snafu: Boeing announced earlier this week that it has to redesign key structural parts of the aircraft (you know, those somewhat essential pieces that hold the wings in place). The company now claims it will begin filling orders in early 2009, although analysts predict the first delivery won't be until fall.

Which got us thinking. Is the 787 one of those technological marvels that's so ambitious, so novel that production delays are inevitable? Think about the Tesla Roadster, the electric sports car that can go 220 miles before it needs to recharge. The prototype is done and series production finally began on March 17, but only after significant delays (most notably over transmission troubles). Yet we doubt many people are canceling their orders, and even if they were, there's a waitlist longer than an Airbus 380-compatible runway. What are some other products that were delayed to market but worth the wait?

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  • Bill Burnett

    Will the 787 be worth the wait. My 12 year old saw their electronic window shading display at the Museum of Science and Industry and thinks that is cool enough by itself to warrant a flight on the plane. An interesting question surrounding Boeing's stratery has to do with outsourcing innovation potential. Lots of people think of innovation as that great new breakthrough product. But the fact is most innovation has to do with know-how. Since Boeing has farmed out both the design and development of many crucial elements of airplane design, are they surrendering their ability to own the innovative know-how which no employee of Boeing has relative to these parts of planes. What stops an up and coming aircraft company in Brazil or India or China from leveraging this know-how either by hiring the companies Boeing hired, or finding the key innovative employees and hiring them away?