With Boeing's first delivery of its 787-9 on the horizon, the Federal Aviation Administration and its counterpart in Europe have certified the newest Dreamliner for commercial service.
Boeing Co. said Monday that the 787-8 Dreamliner has now flown 20 million passengers after 100,000 revenue flights.
To mark the occasion, the company is asking passengers who have flown on or will soon fly on the jet to share their photographs, stories and feedback on Twitter at #FlyTheDream.
Boeing also said it has set up a new 787 website: newairplane.com/787/flythedream
The aircraft, a larger version of the 787-8 assembled in North Charleston and Everett, Wash., will be delivered to Air New Zealand in July. The first flight is scheduled for Oct. 15.
"With this validation that the airplane is ready for commercial operations, Boeing along with our airline and leasing customers now look forward to introducing the newest member of the Dreamliner family to passengers around the world," Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said in a statement.
Air New Zealand originally was scheduled to take delivery of the first 787-9 four years ago, but that was pushed back as Boeing revised the design of the aircraft while ironing out production glitches with the 787-8.
To earn certification for the new jet, Boeing undertook a review program with five planes and more than 1,500 hours of check flights, plus ground and laboratory tests.
Assembly of the 787-9 began last year. Parts for the plane are made in North Charleston. The first full assembly of the aircraft at Boeing's facility near Charleston International Airport is expected to begin this fall.
The plane is now assembled only in Everett.
The fuselage of the 787-9 is 20 feet longer than the 787-8, it can carry more passengers and cargo, fly farther and use less fuel than similarly sized planes. Twenty-six customers around the world have ordered 413 787-9s, accounting for 40 percent of all 787 orders.
The jet's list price is almost $250 million though discounts are common in the commercial aircraft business.
Aviation analyst Saj Ahmad with Strategic AeroResearch said the new certification adds pressure to Boeing's North Charleston operation to "up its game as it produces more than one 787 model."
"Deliveries are important not just for revenue but to drive down costs on a program that has already suffered damaging delays," Ahmad said. "Boeing has added extra hands on deck to keep production stabilized and work errors down, but the real challenge is to balance that increased production with high quality, reduced travelled work and mix assembly between the two current models."
That work flow is vital to the local Boeing operation if it intends to remain the favorite for production of the 787-10, too, he said.
"If they can't up their game, then Boeing will invariably look elsewhere to house the 787-10," Ahmad said. "But for the near-term, the goal will be to emulate the Everett plant in delivering both 787-8s and 787-9s," he said. "Boeing can ill afford to let output overshadow quality and while South Carolina has come a long way on the learning curve, it's evident that there is still a lot of work to be done to raise the bar while managing customer expectations with higher deliveries."
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.