Boeing Dreamliner 787 in Britain: A dream for passengers
Mark Rowe takes a look at the Boeing Dreamliner 787, currently in Britain on a world tour, and is more than impressed with what he finds.
The Boeing Dreamliner 787 is in Britain this week Photo: PA
By Mark Rowe
5:23PM BST 23 Apr 2012
The clue is in the name. From its unusually high ceilings and flexible wings to the large windows that can be dimmed at the touch of a button, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner appears to raise the bar in terms of style and comfort in the sky.
Despite being originally slated for launch in 2009, a series of technological delays has meant that only nine 787s are currently in service, all with Japanese airlines. However Boeing is finally embarking on a world tour with one of its test aircraft, arriving at London Heathrow today with all the razzmatazz of a PR company promoting a new pop idol.
British-based passengers must wait until next summer, when Thomson Airways becomes the first UK airline to fly the Dreamliner, although the company starts taking bookings for 2013 summer holidays to Cancun and Florida from Gatwick and Manchester on the aircraft later this week. Thomson has ordered 13 Dreamliners, which it will configure with a premium club seat pitch of 38 inches and economy seat pitch of 34 inches. British Airways starts flying its 24 Dreamliner fleet next year, exclusively out of Heathrow, while Virgin Atlantic will start flights in 2014.
Steve Ridgway, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, tries out a Dreamliner seat
The Dreamliner can fly up to 290 passengers up to 8,500 nautical miles, putting non-stop flights from London to Perth or Honolulu within reach, along with other major destinations, such as San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Buenos Aires and Tokyo.
But as the first mid-size airplane capable of flying long-range routes, it raises the intriguing possibility of new non-stop routes from regional UK airports, such as Manchester to Bali, or Glasgow to Cape Town. “If you can fly from your local airport at a price you can pay, and the airline can still make a profit, and you get a more comfortable ride, then it will make for the right combination,” said John Strickland, an independent aviation analyst and director of JLS Consulting.
Aesthetically, the aircraft is elegant and easy on the eye, far more so than the forbidding A380 super jumbo. The edges of the two engine casings are shaped as chevrons to enhance fuel efficiency, while the wings taper to arched tips that lend the contours of the aircraft an oriental appearance and make it look more “birdlike” than any other aircraft. Boeing says the Dreamliner’s chunky overhead bins allow every passenger to store one large bag near their seat.
The overhead bins should allow passengers to store one large bag near their seats
The windows are typically 30 per cent larger than on other aircraft, and those windows by the rear exit doors are better for whiling away the time than the opaque glass on the A380.
By adjusting the wings – they lift by up to three metres - pilots say they can smooth out the ride and minimise the effects of turbulence. “Whatever the level of turbulence, it will bring it down a few notches compared to what you would experience on other aircraft,” said Stephen Riley, head of flight operations for BA “This is a game-changer, a step forward in technology. There’s definitely a ‘wow’ factor - even for pilots when they step on board. ”
Unlike the traditional aluminium fuselage, the 787’s eye-catching body is made from a composite mixture of carbon and polymer resin. These plastic composites enable the aircraft to maintain a higher cabin pressure, recreating the conditions of an altitude of 6,000ft, rather than the more typical 8,000 ft, meaning passengers should experience fewer symptoms of jetlag, such as headaches, dizziness and dehydration.
The interest in such a futuristic aircraft of a company such as Thomson, which specialises in the conventional package holiday market, lies not just in the emphasis on greater passenger comfort but in the greater fuel efficiency. The 787 uses about 20 per cent less fuel, costs 30 per cent less to maintain, and has a noise footprint 60 per cent smaller than aircraft of the same size.
“This aircraft might have been built explicitly with our airline in mind,” said Chris Browne, managing director of Thomson Airways. “This is the first aircraft that Boeing has designed which makes the comfort of passengers as important as the safety of the flight. It makes for a smoother ride for nervous passengers – more than 40% of our passengers would fly long haul if the journey was more comfortable.”