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Dreamliner, Boeing 787 returns to the classic era of air travel

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Do you miss the golden age of air travel? Boeing's new 787 'Dreamliner' is the answer to your prayers. Touted as a luxury travel dream with luxe, upscale furnishings and mod accoutrements, the first Dreamliner took to the air this week in a short flight over Japan's Mount Fuji, landing in Hong Kong.

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Boeing plans to bring the economics of large jet transports to the middle of the market, using 20 percent less fuel than competitors. And, with only 250 seats, it has the look and feel of a classic aircraft. Hands down, it is a very attractive ride. But the details of this carbon-fiber plane are totally modern, for example, each seat has a built-in, personal LCD screen. Nippon Airways is already planning to have a flight from Japan to the West Coast. Authorities in the Charleston area are discussing adding a Dreamliner to the pilot training roster.

But the Dreamliner has become the company's financial nightmare, as it morphed into the biggest and most mindbogglingly expensive investment of the company over the past decade. "The plane may be the best plane ever produced, but in losing money it may also be the record holder," said Adam Pilarski, a senior vice president at aviation-consulting firm Avitas. Boeing will suffer from the outsourcing fees for years, as it cut 10,000 staff in Seattle in recent downsizing efforts, and ordered parts from around the world. But naysayers ask, to what end.

A senior Boeing engineer who spoke anonymously bluntly states the company managed to "dig ourselves a tremendous hole." There is an expectation that over the coming years production will recoup massive cost overruns and "we can do a good job of pulling that back." Yet it's already been over seven years since the visionary jet program launched, with no end in sight.

Nonetheless, when you walk into a Dreamliner, it will be a very special moment. Whether the costs of a dream ride will escalate along with the production fees remains to be seen.

© Copyright 2011 Mary Holman. All rights reserved. This article and content may not be republished, rewritten or excerpted.

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