Boeing’s big dream is a reality
Boeing’s big dream is a reality
About three hours into a flight from Casablanca, in the cockpit of the new Boeing Dreamliner 787, the captain quickly whips out her camera to snap a plane flying past seemingly metres away.
“It happens all the time,” explains Heather Ross, the captain of the Dreamliner, as we cruise to Abu Dhabi, on the finishing leg of a world tour of customers and suppliers for the aircraft.
Using about 20 per cent less fuel than other planes of its kind, the 787 is also one of the most advanced airliners in the world.
It is also Boeing’s pride and joy.
“The more precise we are in monitoring a path, the more aircraft you can get in a given area of airspace,” explains Todd Abhrams, Ms Ross’ co-pilot.
Proving Ms Ross’ first point, another plane, a Qatar Airways passenger aircraft, zooms past the Dreamliner’s huge window and the two pilots in the cockpit again take a picture.
The plane is cruising at 952kmh, or 265 metres per second. The closest plane that flashed by was about a kilometre away, but seemed much closer.
Ms Ross and her co-pilot have head-up display screens in front of them that carry information about the plane so they can monitor its complex mechanics and electronics, as well view as the horizon.
The vista from the cockpit is also very wide. So wide in fact, that the captain can see the tips of the wings. “Such large windows allow us to pick up a lot more around us,” says Ms Ross.
Thank goodness, given the number of planes in the sky.
But the Dreamliner’s innovation extends way beyond the cockpit.
Walking on to the plane, passengers will probably be most impressed with the space in the cabin and the light pouring in from the windows, which are 30 to 60 per cent bigger than other aircraft.
Rather than pull-down shades, the windows have a button that darkens the glass to different levels but remain transparent.
“If you have any kind of motion sickness, to be able to see the horizon really helps to limit that,” says Lori Gunter, the head of communications for the Dreamliner.
The cabin is pressurised to 6,000 feet, rather than 8,000 ft, making the ride more comfortable, and humidity is higher, reducing that dry feeling when flying.
A six ft tall person can stand comfortably in the middle row of seats of the plane, which is made of composite materials such as carbon fibre and graphite, rather than traditional aluminium.
The durability of the composite materials is the driving force behind much of the innovative features.
And its technical specifications are one of the key reasons it became Boeing’s most successful plane launch ever, with more than 800 aircraft on order and awaiting production.
Etihad Airways will take delivery of 41 Dreamliners over five years, starting from October 2014, making it the biggest operator of the 787-9 in the world. Qatar Airways is expected to take delivery of its first plane this month.
The 787-9 can carry up to 290 passengers on routes of 14,800 to 15,750km. Its sister model, the 787-8, can carry 250 passengers on routes of 14,200 to 15,200 kilometres. The distance between the UAE and London is about 5,400km and Sydney is about 12,000km.
The 787-3 is the short-range member of the family which carries 290 passengers a maximum range of 5,650km.
With a list price of US$192 million (Dh705.2m) each, Boeing has already signed off billions in revenues from this aircraft. But it has not all been smooth flying.
The plane hit delays and other turbulence during production and was eventually delivered about three years late in October last year to its first client, Al Nippon Airways.
Only weeks after flying the plane, Al Nippon reported the landing gear had failed to automatically open, the most serious blot on the plane’s report card.
The delays in production were caused because Boeing relies on thousands of suppliers worldwide to provide component parts for the plane.
The engines are made by Rolls-Royce in the UK and GE in the US. Wiring is produced in Mexico and lighting in Germany. Different parts of the fuselage are manufactured in Italy, Japan and the US.
Abu Dhabi is also set to become a major Boeing customer after the company signed a $1 billion deal in April with Mubadala Aerospace.
The company is a unit of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government. Mubadala’s Strata Manufacturing plant in Al Ain will initially manufacture ribs for the main hull of the Boeing 777 and the vertical tailplane of the 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing’s growing and diverse supplier base is one of the reasons the Dreamliner is on a world tour, having stopped at more than 30 cities in the past six months so partners can see the finished product.
The plane has had such a tight schedule that it could only manage a fly past rather than touching down at one wing company in the back of beyond in Mexico.
In Casablanca, an oblivious black dog was spotted about 20 metres away running alongside the plane as we took off to make a fly past of the airport and whip local media into an aviation-fuelled frenzy. Captain Ross even rocked the Dreamliner from side to side as we flew past to simulate a wave goodbye – and give plane spotters their very own opportunity to take a photo at close quarters.
As farewells go, it was a hard one to beat.