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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Boeing's 787 Rushes on Test Flights

Seattle -- Boeing on Sunday was to unveil its 787 Dreamliner at an event hosted by former television news anchor Tom Brokaw before 15,000 people and broadcast live by satellite in nine languages.

Once the crowd leaves, Boeing must prove the aircraft is ready for commercial use in eight months, the shortest test-flight program in the company's 90-year history.

"The flight test will be the moment of truth," said Craig Fraser, a fixed-income analyst at Fitch Ratings in New York. "That's what people are really focusing on. Does it go from a positive story to a very positive story or slide into trouble?"

The 787 Dreamliner is Boeing's first new jetliner since 1995 and, with 677 orders, its most successful. The world's second-largest maker of commercial aircraft is counting on the 787 to win back leadership of the $60 billion-per-year jetliner market from Airbus.

The plane helped Boeing win more orders than Toulouse, France-based Airbus in 2006 for the first time in five years. Airbus' competing A350 Extra Wide Body will enter service in 2013, five years after the Dreamliner. The 787 is sold out until 2015, Boeing says. Airbus passed Boeing in aircraft deliveries in 2003 and retained the lead through last year.

Chicago-based Boeing's shares have risen 50 percent over the past two years, while shares of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., Airbus's parent company, have fallen 6.3 percent. Boeing rose 52 cents to $98.88 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading on July 6.

The 787, approved by Boeing's board in late 2003, has cost $10 billion to develop, said Paul Nisbet, an analyst at JSA Research in Newport, Rhode Island.

About $6 billion came from Boeing and $4 billion from suppliers sharing the risk associated with developing the new plane by designing their own parts, Nisbet estimated. Boeing project manager Michael Bair declined to say how much has been invested in the program.

The 787, which features carbon-fiber composites that reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency, will begin test flights around early September, and delivery of the first plane to a customer is slated for May 2008. "We have no intention of being late into service," Bair said at a news conference in Seattle on July 6.

The unveiling day is symbolic: 7/8/07. Also, 60 years ago to the day, Boeing's 377 Stratocruiser, its first plane to sell successfully to non-U.S. airlines, flew for the first time. The Stratocruiser used cutting-edge technology of the period, cabin pressure, letting it fly above the weather.

For Sunday's debut, Boeing reserved Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks professional football team, for employees and retirees to watch on its video screen. Boeing's satellite feeds will carry the event to workers, customers and suppliers around the world in languages including Arabic and Chinese.

The showing of the 787, at the Everett, Washington, factory where it is assembled, will also be available via web cast.

"The rollout is for show," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based aviation consulting company. "The real money is getting it to fly right. This is a notably aggressive flight test schedule with little room for error."

Improved technology and flight simulators have reduced the need for tests once possible only after the plane was built. The test flights are scheduled to last three fewer months than the 11 months required for the 777 in the early 1990s, Bair said. "It is compressed," Bair said of the test-flight program.