Ethiopian Airlines will receive its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner this month. The airline was one of the first customers in the world, and the first customer in Africa, for Boeing’s new- generation airliner, which entered revenue service in October last year with All Nippon Airways (ANA) of Japan. Ethiopian has ordered ten of the aircraft. Currently, 859 Dreamliners are on order from 58 customers worldwide, and 15 are in revenue service. Other African carriers which have ordered the 787 are Arik Air, Kenya Airways and Royal Air Maroc.
The airframe of the 787 is predominantly made from composites, which account for 50% of the aircraft by weight. This makes the aeroplane significantly lighter than previous airliners in the same size category, thereby reducing fuel expenditure and thus costs.
“There’s been a really unprecedented response from customers around the world. Airlines are really looking for the most [fuel] efficient airplanes,” says Boeing Market Analysis director Mike Warner. “The focus is on costs – operating costs. The fuel burn on the ANA 787s is better than we expected. We expected 20%; it’s been better than that.” In addition, he points out that the 787 is a medium-size airliner with long range, which fits well with the requirements of many African airlines.
Dreamliner production is now running at three-and-a-half aircraft a month, but this will ramp up to ten a month by late 2013. At the moment, all the aircraft coming off the assembly line are 787-8 versions, but assembly of the first stretched 787-9 model will start early next year and this new version will enter service in early 2014.
Further, the US aerospace giant is considering developing a third version of the aircraft, which is being referred to as the 787-10. “There’s been a great response from the market to the 787-10, but we haven’t committed to it yet,” states Warner. In a typical configuration, the 787-8 carries 240 passengers and the 787-9 will carry 280, while the 787-10 will carry 323.
Life has not been easy for airlines worldwide, in large part owing to high fuel costs. “That is a huge impact on the airlines,” he points out. “[But t]he growth has been there. For the most part, the airlines have made a pretty good job of managing through these difficult times.”
Boeing consults with experts in the petroleum industry from around the world to try to determine the general longer-term trend of the oil price. “Fuel prices are going to remain high . . . remain volatile – in the range of $120 [a barrel] to $140,” he reports. The price is unlikely to rise above $140 (except for crisis-induced spikes) because “there’s been an amazing increase in supply”, such as shale oil in the US. Biofuels are also beginning to enter the aviation sector, with various successful trials involving airliners and military aircraft.
Nevertheless, the expected fuel price trend will continue to emphasise the need for more fuel efficient commercial aircraft. “Efficiency is one of the reasons for the warm welcome for the 787-10 concept,” affirms Warner.
At the moment, the four African air- lines listed earlier have a total of thirty 787s on order. Apart from Ethiopian’s ten, they comprise nine for Kenya Airways, seven for Arik Air and four for Royal Air Maroc. Total African carrier orders for all types of Boeing airliners currently stand at 78.
In April, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam visited his com- pany’s first 787, on the Boeing assembly line in Seattle, in the US. “All Ethiopia is excited about the delivery of our first Dreamliners and the whole country can be proud of being the first in all of Africa to receive this game-changing airplane,” he said. “Taking this step forward before so many other airlines is a true testament to our drive to be the aviation leader in Africa and beyond.”