Dreamy Debut for the 787

Months ahead of actual flight time, Boeing's latest is rolled out to cheers in Washington.

Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner made its debut Sunday, following a flurry of last-minute sales and a marketing blitz hosted by former news anchor Tom Brokaw.

Brokaw described the new jet as a "rock star," and it looked the part with its gleaming blue-and-white paint scheme as it was towed in front of the behemoth plant here where the Chicago-based company assembles its long-range aircraft.

As the plane came into view, the 15,787 customers, suppliers and Boeing employees in attendance jumped to their feet, many capturing the moment with digital cameras thrust above their heads.

"It's amazing that it came together," said John Butler, a Boeing employee who has worked on the plane for four years.

At a football stadium in Seattle, 25,000 Boeing workers and retirees watched the roll-in on giant screens, while millions of aviation enthusiasts tuned in worldwide via satellite or the Web.

Earlier, W. James McNerney Jr., Boeing's president and CEO, described the aerospace industry as ripe "for another fundamental change in air travel" that the 787 promises to bring by improving fuel efficiency and passenger comforts.

"Boeing has gathered the best ideas and brightest minds from around the world," McNerney said.

Boeing officials wasted no time putting the spotlight on the Dreamliner brand. They handed out Dreamliner bottled water to those attending the fete, and musicians played a specially composed Dreamliner theme to kick off the hour-long ceremony.

Given that brand-new airplanes come along only "every 15 years or so, you've got to get it right," said Michael Bair, vice president and general manager of the 787 program for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

It was a lot of hoopla for a plane described by industry experts as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

The 787 boasts a composite fuselage, commonplace for high-end business jets but never before used for commercial airlines. It is designed to consume 20 percent less fuel than contemporary rivals, with added passenger comforts such as larger windows and greater humidity to counter jet lag.

Such advances in the 787, Boeing executives say, are more akin to those of the Boeing 777 rather than its 747 jumbo jet, which ushered in an era of transcontinental flying in the late 1960s. What's unusual is the way the Dreamliner has captured sales, as well as the public's fancy.

Long-range photos taken by a blogger of the jetliner's first trip to the Boeing paint shop near the Everett factory, made in the dead of night, quickly flashed around the world. And about 50 plane-spotters stared at the new jet from across a highway Sunday.

Much of the intense interest is a response to the series of snafus, revealed last year, that set back initial deliveries of Airbus' A380 superjumbo jet by two years, experts say.

Executives for the Dreamliner's launch customer, Japan's All Nippon Airways, said Sunday that they expect the aircraft to be delivered on time, starting in May.

ANA hopes to have the first plane in service in June, flying domestically initially and then making short international trips. One likely route: between Tokyo and Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

However, Boeing has advised ANA that the earlier jets among the 12 aircraft it is to take during 2008 and 2009 will be heavier than expected, potentially making them costlier to operate, executives said.

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