United’s First 787

United Airlines 787-8

United Airlines became the first U.S. Airline to take delivery of the 787 on September 23rd, but the actual aircraft – N20904 (msn: 34828) – has had a low profile since then, but will shortly begin a series of special flights to domestic United focus cities and hubs.

Seen here about to perform a high-speed taxi test at Paine Field, the airliner’s first few days with United were spent flying between Paine Field, Boeing Field in Seattle, and Grant County/Moses Lake airport in central Washington for crew training. About a week later, the new airplane departed for United’s Houston Hub.

Although delivered to United, the orders for the carrier’s first 787s were placed by Continental Airlines as early as 2004. Though United and Continental are now one fully integrated carrier under the United banner, the initial routes for the carrier’s 787s were initially designed around Continental’s older hub structure. Thusly, Houston is the first pilot base for the 787, and some of the initial routes will be Houston centric, including the anticipated route between Houston and Lagos and temporary Houston-London and Houston-Amsterdam routes. But the 787 will also be deployed between Denver, a traditional United stronghold, and Tokyo and Los Angeles and Tokyo beginning this winter.

Belly space on the 787-8 is almost as capacious as that of the 777-200, of which United has a large fleet (74) – both can accommodate five forward pallets, while the 772 trumps the 788 on aft LD3 space by two containers (14 vs. 12).

United has 35 more 787-8s on order, but significantly, has 14 787-9s on order as well.

Now that deliveries of the 787-8 have picked up momentum and six airlines have aircraft (ANA, Air India, Ethiopian, JAL, LAN, and United), focus is beginning to shift to the next version of the 787 – the larger -9.

In a recent interview with Aviation Week 787 chief project engineer Mike Sinnett indicated that the lessons learned from early production of the -8 have made the process for ramping up the -9 far smoother. Sinnett stated “From a production standpoint, all the major structural pieces are in initial build. In a lot of cases, we’re early. It’s a significantly different spot we’re in than we were with the -8.”

The first 787-9 is expected to begin final assembly in Q1 2013, with the first delivery, for Air New Zealand, scheduled for the first half of 2014.

For those watching keenly for the expanded belly space of this new variant, the -9 will incorporate 6 forward pallet positions and 16 aft LD3s.

© Photographer: Alex Kwanten

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