On 23 April, the sixth leg of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner worldwide ‘Dreamtour’ to meet customers, suppliers and VIPs, was launched at London Heathrow. TIM ROBINSON reports
Under grey rainy skies, Boeing’s third 787 – ZA003 – now equipped with a semi-representative business and economy class cabin, kicked off the sixth leg of its Dreamtour at London Heathrow Airport. This stage will see it visit Manchester and Gatwick, before heading on to Oslo, Norway and Taranto, Italy (home of key supplier Alenia’s fuselage barrel facility). On earlier Dreamtour legs, the aircraft has already visited China, Africa, the Middle East, Dublin, Mexico and Chile. However, despite some inaccurate reporting from mainstream news outlets, the visit was not the 787’s first to the UK – it debuted at Farnborough in 2010 and more recently when an ANA 787 diverted to Heathrow in March of this year.
Watch video below of Randy Tinseth, VP Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes VP Marketing, Randy Tinseth introducing the 787 in the Royal Suite at Heathrow.
In particular, Boeing has been using this ‘Dreamtour’ to highlight the new cabin refinements that it believes will make it a hit with passengers and customers alike. Bigger windows (made possible by the composite fuselage) that are electrically dimmable are one feature. Larger luggage bins to accommodate the ever-growing carry-on bags, while a lower cabin altitude and more humid atmosphere, should make passengers arrive more refreshed. An active gust alleviation system also makes for a smoother flight for passengers and crew, and fewer spilled drinks. Finally, the 787 also incorporates LED ceiling lights allowing a range of mood lighting – or when all on together a psychedelic rainbow effect that would please Austin Powers.
Present at the Dreamtour media launch at Heathrow were the three UK airline customers that have ordered the aircraft – Thomson Airways (part of TUI Travel), British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways, who, together, have ordered 49 aircraft between them. Thomson, in particular, was only the third airline in the world to order the 787 in 2005, and will see its nine Dreamliners delivered from May 2013. It is just about to put on sale its 2013 long-haul holiday packages with Florida and Cancun lined up as the first 787 destinations, with flights from Gatwick and Manchester. The holiday airline will be operating the Dreamliner in a 291-seat two-class configuration with economy club and a new premium club (with a 38in pitch) which it will hone and tweak with a 767 before rolling out on its new 787s. Speaking to Thomson Airways Managing Director, Chris Browne, she revealed that other destinations that the airline may use the 787 on include Thailand and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, also in 2013, British Airways is set to have one of its most exciting years ever – with the introduction of not one, but two aircraft types, the 787 and the Airbus A380. BA’s A380 is already on the production line in Toulouse, while the flag carrier reveals it has already got three pilots 787-qualified for the 24 787s it will take delivery of.
Finally Virgin Atlantic is set to receive its 787s in 2014 – having ordered 16. Virgin’s Dreamliners will be mainly used to replace existing aircraft, says Chief Financial Officer Tim Levitt, with a ‘handful’ for additional growth. So far though, Virgin, well known for its innovative branding, is tight-lipped about what its 787 Upper Class will look like.
Introduction into UK skies
Though the 787 has already entered service with Japanese carriers in the form of launch customer ANA and JAL, UK carriers are putting safety first and are keen to ensure that the 787 introduction into service goes as smoothly as possible. For instance, British Airways and Thomson are co-operating and sharing experiences, with BA providing 777 experience for Thomson pilots – (so the jump from 767 to 787 is bridged by the 777). In return for this assistance once Thomson acquires its first Dreamliners, it will share this experience with BA – with jumpseating BA pilots on Thomson as one potential idea. This sharing of experience should mean that there are no surprises or major issues with each carrier. As BA’s Director of Flight Operations, Captain Stephen Riley notes – it’s really to learn stuff that ‘isn’t in the manual’.
The Dreamtour also presented an opportunity for Boeing’s UK supply chain (of some 250+ suppliers) to bask in some of the limelight and see the aircraft up close for themselves. Though Airbus continues to support the largest portion of civil airliner work in the UK, through its wing work – Boeing is keen to point out that with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines – the 787’s UK content jumps to 25% by value. Other UK suppliers, too, have benefited (and will benefit) as the production rate increases in Seattle and in the second 787 line in South Carolina (with the first SC-made 787 to roll out from there later this week). These suppliers include; GKN Aerospace, Ultra Electronics, Goodrich, Contour Aerospace and Messier-Bugatti-Dowty. Additionally QinetiQ’s low-speed wind tunnels, now being used in finalising the 737 MAX design, were also used in the development of the 787.
The bottom line
However despite the passenger-centric cabin, dimmable window blinds and funky ceiling light show – the real reason why customers are keen to get their hands on the Dreamliner – is because of the potential 20% fuel savings (and therefore profits) it represents – thanks to its fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce/GE engines and lightweight carbon composite construction. The Dreamliner will not only allow airlines to replace other older aircraft such as 767, but also will allow carriers to forge new ‘long and thin’ point-to-point routes that could not support larger aircraft.
With UK airlines claiming they are being battered by APD in the UK, and ETS by Europe along with British business leaders pressing for new links with growing economies (such as the BRICs, Brazil, Russia, China, India and Asia-Pacific generally) the 787 will help connect these far-away destinations – as well as feed trade and tourism back into the UK.
The reduced noise, too, (like the A380), will also make the 787 a good neighbour with its noise footprint 60% smaller than equivalent-sized twin jets. For the UK, in particular, with concerns about noise over West London, thanks to Heathrow, the 787’s quietness should win it points with local residents – “it’s almost shockingly quieter” according to BA’s Director of Flight Operations Captain Stephen Riley.
However, for many airlines’ chief financial officers the most ‘dreamy’ thing about 787 – will be its fuel efficiencies and lower operating costs. This will, in a world where rising oil prices threaten to destroy what gains the airlines make, will allow carriers to keep ahead of this cost growth curve and still return profits in these challenging times.