Boeing's long-delayed Dreamliner looks certain to take to the skies from July, with the aircraft maker pulling its delivery date forward from a later schedule.
However, no delivery date has been announced for the first of Qantas' order of 50 787s, though Qantas is hoping for 2012. Instead, the first airline to fly the plane will be Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA).
After that, another 19 Dreamliners are due to be delivered to other airlines in the second half of the year — but no Australian ones.
The first airlines in the queue to get 787s in 2011 are LAN Airlines (Chile), Air India, ANA, JAL, Aeroméxico, Royal Air Maroc (Morocco), and Continental/United.
Boeing won't officially confirm it has pulled its date forward for the delivery of the first production plane to ANA, sticking to its official "[US] Summer 2011" guidance, but respected aviation industry site FlightGlobal claims it has advice from industry officials confirming the new schedule.
ANA's 787 will reportedly be a base model 787-8 and will have a two-class configuration — business and economy. It will only be used for short to medium length flights. That's because the first planes off the production line are heavier and won't fly as far as later planes. This isn't unusual when building aircraft — the production line becomes more efficient, and weight savings can be made — but it will scupper plans for long-distance flying on day 1.
The next model of 787, the -9 variant, will be delivered to Air New Zealand, and will have more powerful engines, able to handle a heavier take-off weight and therefore carry enough fuel (plus passengers and freight) for longer trips.
Japan Airlines is also due to get a 787 in October.
Japan has been a huge customer for the Boeing 787, with a total of 90 Dreamliners on order between JAL and ANA, but only one A380 on order for a budget domestic airline.
Despite being dubbed "Dreamliner", the 787 is actually smaller and fits fewer seats than Boeing's iconic 747.
However, it's very attractive to airlines because its fuel efficiency means it can fly further than a 747 while also using less fuel per passenger — crucial in an era where oil prices are skyrocketing.
In contrast, the Airbus A380's massive seating capacity pins Airbus' hopes of making a profit from the flying cruise ship to high-traffic routes and a predicted explosion of passenger traffic in China and India.
In fact, Airbus is so certain of this strategy that it is working on an even larger stretch-A380, with a vision of long haul travel reducing to just 38 cities, with shuttle flights shunting passengers on to their ultimate destination.