Boeing Gets A Wing Up On The Competition

Airplane production

When the first 787 "Dreamliner" rolls off Boeing's factory floor next month, it will be the most technologically advanced airliner ever built — with looks to match ... like windows that are 25 percent bigger than most other airliners.

"That changes the whole interior experience of the plane," said airline industry analyst Peter Goelz. "You can see out beyond the horizon while you're flying, which is really amazing."

As CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports, the 787's overhead bins are roomier and the seats and aisles slightly wider. Boeing promises air that's less dry and overhead lights that simulates daylight or the nighttime sky, depending on what time it is.

But it's what's on the outside that's making this 223-passenger plan a hit with the airline industry: a carbon-composite skin instead of the traditional metal. It makes the plane lighter and enables it to use 20 percent less fuel than other planes the same size.

"I don't think anybody would've thought that fuel prices, including jet fuel prices, would be as high as they are today, so it's been very attractive to our airline customers," said Steve Westby, Boeing's vice president of manufacturing.

There have been nearly 600 orders so far from 45 airlines worldwide — making the $150 million airplane the fastest-selling commercial airliner in history.

Goelz says the plane is designed for medium-range trips — say from New York to Denver — increasingly, the bread and butter of domestic airlines.

"It really gives Boeing a boost: They're back in front, they're on top, and I think they're gonna stay there for the foreseeable future," Goelz said.

Airbus, Boeing's European rival, isn't fairing nearly as well with its new flagship, the A380. The double-decker "Superjumbo" is big enough to carry 555 passengers, but the plane has been plagued by production delays and cancelled orders. It has sold fewer than 200 so far.

"And if it is not successful, it's gonna bring Airbus to its financial knees," Goelz said.

In a multibillion-dollar industry with only two major players, one competitor's turbulence can be the wind beneath the other company's wings.