The Boeing Dreamliner's Long Road to FAA Approval

It's clear for takeoff: three years late

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The eagle has landed! Three years behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget, Boeing has finally received Federal Aviation Administration approval for its 787 Dreamliner to carry passengers. It's the world's first plastic-composite jet, which "uses lighter-weight plastics and more electricity to let it fly farther with less" and "allows airlines to open new long-haul routes that wouldn’t warrant service with jumbo jets," reports Bloomberg. So what took this jumbo jet so long to get the FAA's seal of approval? These were the obstacles:

Its technical sophistication, notes the Associated Press:

The outer skin of the airplane and much of the structure underneath are made from carbon-fiber-reinforced composite plastic, not aluminum. In addition, many of the vital systems of the airplane are powered by electrical generators rather than by compressed air diverted from the engines, which is the norm on previous jets.

Because of the new technology, the FAA laid down a series of "special conditions," requiring Boeing to demonstrate that the plane is at least as safe as previous aircraft.

They outsourced much of the project, writes Jason Paur at Wired:

Boeing took a huge risk when it decided not only to design and build an entirely new airplane, but to come up with a new way to design and build that airplane. In an unusual move, the company outsourced the design and construction of major components to firms in countries around the world. Many point to that as the cause of many delays, which ultimately made the plane three years late.

But Aboulafia says the real problem was Boeing let outside firms do too much design work.

“Outsource production,” he says. “Don’t outsource design.”

Union woes, notes Laura Myers and Kyle Peterson at Reuters:

Boeing is mired in a legal dispute with one of its top labor unions in Washington state, where it has traditionally built its aircraft. The International Association of Machinists and the National Labor Relations Board have accused Boeing of building a nonunion 787 assembly plant in South Carolina to punish the IAM for past strikes.

Boeing blames one of its seven program delays on a 58-day strike in 2008 over a contract dispute, but it rejects the notion that placement of its second assembly line was retaliatory.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.