Boeing 787 Dreamliner: What's in it for passengers

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which had a successful first flight Tuesday, boasts next-generation aviation technology that's supposed to help it fly faster and farther. But it may also provide a more comfortable ride for passengers.

Robert Sorbo/Reuters
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner takes off on its maiden flight at Paine Field, Tuesday.

From nose to tail and wingtip to wingtip, Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft, which flew its first test flight Tuesday, reflects the most advanced aviation technology available today. That includes its aerodynamic design, engines, flight controls, and avionics.

“This jet, the first conceived and built in the 21st Century, is anything but basic,” writes Michael Mecham in Aviation Week, the website of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. “One bullish analyst once referred to it as the ‘iPhone of aviation,’ high praise indeed.”

But from the passenger’s point of view, the desire to fly safely, comfortably, and without drama is more important than how all the new gizmos work. No one can fully guarantee on-time arrivals, sufficient legroom for taller passengers, or the quality of food. But Boeing says that those flying aboard the 787 can expect a better experience.

The passenger experience

According to Boeing, these improved features include:

• Windows in the 787 are 65 percent larger, and there are no mechanical shades. Instead, individual passengers can adjust the window next to their seat from fully transparent to completely dark.

• Overhead storage bins are larger, making it less likely that you’ll have to store things under the seat in front of you.

• A better air-filtration system with a gas filtration system removes odors and contaminants that can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation.

• Because the fuselage is constructed mainly of composite materials (instead of aluminum), the cabin can be pressurized to a lower altitude – 6,000 feet instead of 8,000 feet. This reduces the likelihood of discomfort and fatigue.

• Airline cabin air typically is very dry in order to prevent corrosion in the aluminum airframe. Non-corroding composite material in the 787 means cabin air can have a higher level of humidity, which is more comfortable for passengers.

• New technology allows the 787’s wing control to anticipate and respond to turbulence, making for a smoother ride. Computer models show an eight-fold reduction in passengers experiencing motion sickness.

• Boeing promises a “quieter cabin” due to reduced engine and exhaust noise, a quieter air-conditioning system, and less vibration.

Despite problems with labor and delays in the delivery of aircraft components from a global network of suppliers, which caused a two-year delay, Boeing’s customers around the world are lining up to buy the Dreamliner at about $150 million a plane. Some 55 airlines have ordered 840 787s.

"That's a record level of orders that any new aircraft has ever received before it has actually flown," BGC Partners transport analyst Howard Wheeldon told the BBC World Service.

Over the next 9 to 12 months, Boeing will test fly six 787s before delivering the first Dreamliner to Japan’s All Nippon Airways. Boeing plans to open a second 787 manufacturing plant in South Carolina.

A successful test flight

On Tuesday, under a typically leaden winter sky near Seattle, pilots Michael Carriker and Randall Neville took off to the north accompanied by a pair of T-33 jet trainers, then turned west for just over three hours of basic flying before returning to land on a rainy runway.

The purpose, said Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx, was to “make sure that the airplane under normal circumstances flies the way it's supposed to fly.” On future test flights, engineers and technicians will be aboard checking equipment and systems.

The 787 version tested Tuesday will be able to carry up to 250 passengers as far as 9,000 miles. A stretch version will be capable of carrying 290 passengers and a short-range model up to 330.

(Editor's note: The original headline and subhead misidentified the aircraft.)


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