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Dreamliner debuting to sky-high hopes

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is unveiled in Everett, Wash.

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Steve Chiotakis: There's a new study out today that finds airline passenger satisfaction rose more than 3 percent earlier this year. It's the first time in six years that airlines saw their scores rise. Southwest got the best marks in the University of Michigan study. United got the worst, again.

It's not every day that a brand new airplane model rolls off the assembly line. For Boeing, its 777 debuted 15 years ago, the last debut for them. But all eyes are on now Boeing's revolutionary new airplane that's finally getting ready for its first flight, just a couple of years behind schedule. Deborah Wang from KUOW in Seattle reports.


Deborah Wang: Boeing hasn't had an easy time getting its 787 Dreamliner off the ground. There have been parts shortages, manufacturing glitches, even a labor strike. So when Boeing recently decided to open its factory doors to show off the first few airplanes, people took it as a good sign.

Yvonne Leach is a spokesperson for the 787:

Yvonne Leach: We're always confident when progress is being made. New airplane programs always have a chance of unknowns. We hope we've seen the unknowns on this program -- they're behind us.

Boeing says the first Dreamliner should be ready for its maiden flight sometime next month. Eventually, a total of six airplanes will be put through thousands of hours of flight tests. They'll have their engines stalled in mid-air, they'll be subjected to simulated bird strikes -- they'll even have to fly with fake ice taped to their wings.

Michel Merluzeau is an aerospace analyst for G2 Solutions. He says problems could still emerge during the flight tests, but he doesn't expect anything dramatic.

Michel Merluzeau: This is Boeing's territory. You know, flight testing, they can execute well. They're in their comfort zone here, they're in the business of flying and testing aircraft.

But Merluzeau says the airplane not only has to fly, it has to fly as promised. It's made mostly of carbon fiber instead of aluminum, so it's supposed to be lighter and 20 percent more fuel efficient. But the first planes are coming off the assembly line heavier than expected.

Merluzeau says airlines aren't happy:

Merluzeau: They sold a concept to the customer. Actually their airlines are basing their route strategy on that aircraft, so it's absolutely critical that they meet these performance targets.

Despite the production delays and the recession, airlines are still eagerly awaiting the new plane. Boeing has more than 800 orders on the books. The first Dreamliner is scheduled to be delivered to Japan's All Nippon Airways sometime next spring.

In Seattle, I'm Deborah Wang for Marketplace.

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