Last weekend, my family and I rode on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Houston to Chicago. Although it was a short flight and we probably were not able to fully appreciate this plane due to the short duration of our flight, I found the 787 to be a really cool plane on many different levels. It is because of the “cool” factors of the plane that Boeing’s 787 capacity is sold out until 2019 despite all the well publicized early issues with the plane, especially the Li-ion battery issue that kept the plane grounded for several months.
From a passenger perspective, one immediately notices the larger windows and cool blue lighting when entering the plane. Further, if you happen to have a window seat, you will notice that there are no shades, instead the windows can be adjusted from totally clear to nearly opaque or anywhere in-between by pressing a switch. The climate in the plane has been improved with higher cabin pressure, better filtration and more humidity to make one feel better at the end of a long flight. The plane seems much less noisy than other passenger jets – making the passenger cabin quieter, thus more soothing.
From an airline perspective, the Dreamliner meets the long-haul service need at 20% higher fuel efficiency than the current fleet. The long-range capability of the plane allows direct service on more than 90% of commercial routes worldwide. Boeing 787 achieving this, while enhancing customer experience, was something to take notice. From a global perspective, given the expected growth in aviation and jet fuel consumption becoming a significant factor in overall greenhouse gas emissions, it is worth saving every liter of fuel to keep the planet cool.
Boeing designed this plane from scratch and has applied the latest technology in every aspect of the plane design – heavy use of composites in the plane structure, state-of-the-art avionics, efficient and quieter engines, no bulb lighting, HEPA filters for recycled air – the list goes on and on. While Boeing had a lot of issues in integrating all the systems of the plane from a far-flung network of suppliers, the result is a plane that is setting the standard for the future. A quick look at how Airbus Industries reacted to 787 shows why.
When 787 plans were finalized and Boeing started taking early orders for the plane, Airbus’ initial reaction was to revamp its A330/340 to compete against this new threat. I also recall reading negative comments from Airbus officials about extensive use of composites in an airframe of this size and how the new technologies Boeing was pushing were untested. But the revamped design of A330/340 was not well received by the airline officials when Airbus tried to get them to sign on with their version of a response to 787. Eventually a totally new A350 was announced by Airbus to compete with the Dreamliner. While A350 is not an exact copy of Dreamliner, a comparison of the specifications of the two planes would lead one to believe that Airbus had no choice but to offer the same amenities and service parameters as the 787 to stay relevant in the long-haul point-to-point service market. To achieve the fuel efficiency targets, Airbus resorted to using similar materials of construction as the Dreamliner, including more than 50% composites. Once the new design of the A350 was announced, Airbus started picking up orders for the plane to make it commercially viable.
So, if you want to experience what the future aviation is going to feel like, get on a Dreamliner flight when you have a chance.