The healthiest order book in the world won't do any good if Boeing can't deliver its new 787 Dreamliner to customers on time. Photo courtesy Boeing Co.

EVERETT, WA-With just a couple of weeks to go before they roll out their new 787 Dreamliner, Boeing managers and engineers are already looking beyond the hoopla to ensure a successful future for their cutting-edge commercial jet.

"It's easy to focus on the first airplane, but it's important to remember that we are building hundreds of these airplanes,” says Mike Bair, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. “Each airplane is just as important as the first and must be built as thoughtfully."

Boeing engineers and managers are undoubtedly well aware of the troubles the European airplane consortium Airbus (Toulouse, France) has been experiencing with its double-decker “super jumbo” jet, the A380. Since taking its first flight in 2005, the A380 has been plagued by production problems and delays costing the company billions of dollars. Just a few days ago, Airbus announced plans to sell off a half-dozen production facilities in Europe to help make ends meet.

Currently, Boeing has more than 600 orders for the 787. However, similar problems could sink it just as surely as they are the A380. Fortunately, despite a handful of well-publicized glitches, including an unexpected shortage of fasteners, assembly of the 787 appears to be going as planned-with a pair of dedicated 747 cargo airplanes making regular flights from as far away as Japan and Spain to supply Boeing’s 787 final assembly line in Everett with everything from landing gear to fuselage sections to wings.

Recently, at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France, Boeing reported it has already committed to include a 787-3 variant of the airplane, a model that will be optimized for shorter routes. Deliveries of this model will start in early 2010.

Later in 2010, the company will start delivery of the 787-9, a slightly longer version of the airplane that will carry more people on longer-range flights. Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Continental and Qantas are among the 11 customers with orders for 115 787-9s.

Further out, Boeing is working with interested customers to define the 787-10, which has yet to be launched.

"It's not a matter of ‘if’ for the 787-10, it's a matter of ‘when,’" Bair says. "We continue to see good interest in this airplane and are working to define what the best offering will be. We have time. In fact, we've moved out the anticipated entry into service for the -10 because there is such high demand for the initial versions of the airplane. We see the 787-10 being introduced sometime around 2013."