WHO IS THE MYSTERY customer that ordered 30 of The Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliners?
That's about $5.4 billion worth of airplanes, at the average list price of $180 million for the 787-9.
The order was quietly placed on Boeing's 2007 order tally Thursday, and the company is not talking. A source familiar with the order said the identity of the customer is being closely held within Boeing until the airline is ready to disclose the order, which could happen at the Paris Air Show in June.
The order is from an airline that has not previously ordered the Dreamliner, the source said. Although American Airlines recently expressed strong interest in the 787, the customer is not a U.S. airline, the source said.
The unusually large and hush-hush order raises speculation that it could be from one of the key airlines considering the 787 or the Airbus A350 XWB (extra wide body). These airlines include heavyweights British Airways, Lufthansa and Emirates.
Since All Nippon Airways of Japan placed the initial order for 50 Dreamliners in April 2004, only two other customers have ordered 30 or more planes - Japan Airlines (35 planes) and Qantas (45 planes). Including this latest 30-plane order from the unidentified customer, Boeing has won 544 firm orders for the 787 from 44 customers.
Learning to fly the 787: With delivery of the first 787 scheduled for May 2008, to All Nippon Airways, it won't be too much longer before airline pilots learn how to fly the world's newest and most advanced jetliner.
And that means a lot of time spent in simulators, the costly, complex machines that duplicate to the smallest detail what actually happens in the cockpit of a jetliner. And the sims for the Dreamliner will be pretty amazing machines, said Sherry Carbary, president of Alteon, Boeing's commercial airplanes training arm.
"It will be so realistic," Carbary said. "The visuals just keep getting better and better."
Thales, the French aerospace company, has the contract to develop the 787 simulators for Alteon.
Alteon is initially setting up 787 training centers at nine locations around the world, including two sites in the U.S. One of those will be at Alteon's training center headquarters in Renton, adjacent to the headquarters of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. But the other U.S. site is being kept confidential for now, Carbary said.
"It will be at a location that will serve more than just that customer," she said.
So far, the only U.S. airlines to order the 787 are Northwest and Continental, although other U.S. legacy carriers are likely to buy the Boeing jet, including Delta and American.
When airlines buy Boeing or Airbus jets, the training of pilots, mechanics and flight crews for those planes is typically included in the total price they pay.
But the 787 training package will be different - and more extensive. Airlines that order the Dreamliner receive "points," which are essentially training credits that can be used with Alteon or anyone else.
"The airlines get a lot more training with every airplane they buy, and they can do it close to home," Carbary said.
Many airlines choose to buy simulators and do their own training. About 80 percent of the industry's commercial jetliner flight training is done by the airlines. Alteon is the largest commercial training provider after the airlines, followed by CAE, the Canadian company and simulator maker. CAE is also developing 787 sims, just not for Alteon.
"Historically, there has been overcapacity because everyone goes out and buys their own simulator, and then they are underutilized," Carbary said. "With the 787, we are trying to offer a solution to the customer and the market that does not require everyone to buy a simulator. They can utilize the ones that will exist around the world. It offers optimized training."
A training suite, including the simulator, can cost from $10 million to $20 million. And the time spent training in a simulator is not cheap, either. That can run from $200 an hour to as much as $1,000 an hour.
Alteon operates more than 80 full-flight simulators at more than 23 training locations around the world. The Alteon centers offer airlines a suite of services, not just a simulator.
None of the planned 787 training centers is open. The Thales simulators are not ready.
The first Thales 787 simulator should arrive at the Alteon headquarters by early next year.
In addition to the two locations in the United States, Alteon is initially setting up these 787 training centers in England, China, Japan, Singapore, Australia and India.
By establishing flight centers around the world, Alteon can offer airlines training close to their home base.
"They no longer have the expense of flying to Seattle," Carbary said.
Customers have options. They can pay Alteon to rent simulator time or they can utilize the full services offered by Alteon, which also will supply the instructors.
Typically, about one simulator is needed for 30 widebody planes, Carbary said.
Boeing has forecast a market for about 3,500 planes the size of the 787. Do the math, and that's a lot of 787 simulators over the next 20 years.
"It's amazing how many 787s we are selling," Carbary said of the more than 500 orders Boeing has - including 30 from the mystery customer. Aerospace Notebook is a Wednesday feature by P-I aerospace reporter James Wallace. He can be reached at 206-448-8040 or .
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