Boeing's dreams have turned into a reality with the 787
, October 17th, 2011
Boeing celebrated a historical milestone last month, when, after more than three-years of unfortunate delays, its first 787 Dreamliner was finally handed over to launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA). To mark the special occasion, a large-scale delivery ceremony was hosted at the airframer’s production facility in Everett, north of Seattle, where international media gathered, myself included, to watch Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and hundreds of his employees wave an emotional goodbye as the aircraft departed to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport.
Weather conditions were far from ideal – reminiscent of the Dreamliner’s first test-flight around two years earlier – but even a heavy downpour was unable to dampen the spirits of everyone present. Some, perhaps caught in the moment, compared the delivery to Sir Edmund Hillary reaching the summit of Mount Everest or Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon. Over in Europe, rival company Airbus was gracious enough to congratulate Boeing, with senior executive John Leahy stating “it’s always a great day for aviation when a new aircraft enters service”.
So, why has the 787 been labelled a success story, even though Boeing has forked out billions of dollars in compensation payouts as a result of delayed deliveries? Airline customers such as ANA, Air India, United Airlines and Qantas, not to mention Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air and Etihad Airways in the Middle East, have been attracted by a string of benefits. For starters, composite materials have been used for around 50 percent of the primary structure, including the fuselage and wing, which is lighter, stronger and more resistant to corrosion than aluminium. This has helped to achieve a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption over comparable aircraft, the importance of which has been heightened in recent months due to skyrocketing fuel prices. Luggage storage bins and cabin windows have also been enlarged, while the latter also boasts of a passenger-controlled electrochromic dimming system that eradicates the need for blinds. In addition, pressurisation has been optimised to such an extent that headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue will be reduced while flying.
With such advantages, many believe that the Dreamliner will create a similar level of hype amongst passengers as the Airbus A380 superjumbo. That theory was further reinforced on ebay, where a pair of tickets on ANA’s inaugural service with the 787 was recently sold for a jaw-dropping US$31,500, which will be donated to a local environmental group. Considering the flight is only 3.5 hours long, between Japan’s Narita airport and Hong Kong, the winning bid equates to around $2245 for each hour of flying time per ticket.
Whether this response will be matched in the Middle East market is yet to be seen, although I’ve heard whispers that the Dreamliner will make its regional debut at next month’s Dubai Airshow. In addition, Qatar Airways has been confirmed as the first Middle East airline to receive the aircraft, although its delivery date has just been rescheduled to later in the first half of 2012, due to certification issues with certain equipment that will be installed on its 787. However, this will be worth the wait, according to CEO Akbar Al Baker, who promises that Qatar Airways will have “the most luxurious 787 flying in the sky”. With such a bold assurance, we cannot wait for the Dreamliner's regional debut - let the countdown begin!
Robeel Haq is senior group editor of Aviation Business magazine at ITP Business Publishing