Dreamliner takes flight

Mitchell Hartman Sep 26, 2011

Dreamliner takes flight

Mitchell Hartman Sep 26, 2011

TESS VIGELAND: A giant leap today for Boeing, if not for mankind.
The U.S. airplane-maker finally delivers its first new aircraft in more than a decade. The 787 Dreamliner is going to Japan’s All Nippon Airways. And I say “finally” because the Dreamliner is three years late. That said, the plane does some things that long-haul wide-body commercial jets have never done before.

Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman went to Boeing’s assembly factory near Seattle for the “first-delivery” events yesterday.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: The Dreamliner is a lot of things: including late and way over budget. And that’s partly because it’s so complicated. It’s the first big commercial jet made of lightweight carbon-fiber and plastic — rather than aluminum.

SCOTT FANCHER: This airplane is positioned to capitalize on one of the biggest challenges that faces commercial aviation, and that’s the operating costs of fuel, the operating costs of labor and maintenance.

Boeing VP Scott Fancher brags that the Dreamliner will use 20 percent less fuel and generate 20 percent less carbon emissions than any aircraft flying today.

Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia says even with all the development delays, the 787 puts Boeing years ahead of anything rival Airbus has to offer.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: The 787 brings a lot of new technologies and performance improvements to the aviation business. It will do better than pretty much any other airplane at doing these long-haul routes in a cost-effective way.

ATTENDANT: Hi, welcome aboard.

With a cabin-full of journalists, I piled into the new Dreamliner that’s set to fly off to Japan tomorrow and settled down into a pretty roomy seat in economy class with Megumi Tezuka of All Nippon Airways.

And the first thing you notice is the windows — they’re big ovals like a Advil gelcap and they don’t have pull-down shades. Instead there’s an electronic dimmer. As you press it, the glass goes from clear to an opaque deep-sea blue.

MEGUMI TEZUKA: The windows are 30 percent bigger than the 767s. Even from the middle seat you can see outside.

This is just part of what makes the Dreamliner feel so spacious and airy. The ceiling’s much higher than in other planes — even though there’s more space for carry-ons in the overhead bins. We step to the rear to a place virtually every passenger visits on a long flight.

TEZUKA: The flush, you don’t have to touch it.

The lavatory also has a window — there’s another seat with a view. And there are some features you can’t see. The lightweight, flexible airframe means the cabin pressure can be set to a comfortable 6,000-foot level, instead of 8,000-feet, which is typical. Boeing says that will reduce muscle pain, headache and dry eyes in-flight.

But here’s a little secret: All these fancy new amenities for everyone who boards a Dreamliner? Well, it’s nice, but it’s not where the money is.

ABOULAFIA: The premium traffic at the front of the cabin — first and business class — is probably going to provide about 90 to 100 percent of an airline’s profits.

That’s Richard Aboulafia again, the airline-industry analyst.

ABOULAFIA: If the folks in the back are paying $600 and the folks in the front are paying $6,000 for just, say, 50 percent more room — whether it means lie-down flat seats or world-class, in-flight entertainment — those are the amenities that you provide to chase exactly that traffic.

Megumi Tezuka confirms that All Nippon will have as many as 48 premium seats on intercontinental routes — half the total cabin space.

TEZUKA: Business class is mainly our target, so I think there will be many people coming on board, yes.

I settled down into one of those premium seats. There’s tons of legroom, a big-screen for entertainment, the seats automatically recline, and there’s a head-height panel between each seat so you never even have to even look at your neighbor if you don’t want to.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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