Airliner design - the Dreamliner

Reply Thu 13 Sep, 2007 07:42 pm
Bloomberg News Article LINK

Some of this sounds like improvement to me...

Big Windows, Better Air: First Look at Boeing's New Dreamliner
By James S. Russell

Aug. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Flooded with light as cool and blue as a spa, the interior of Boeing Co.'s new 787 jetliner vaults overhead in an off-white curve.

With its 6-foot-wide cabin entry set off by dropped arches, this new player in the long-haul sweepstakes tries to soothe the tensions of ticket lines and security checks.

Dreamliner is the hokey name for Boeing's midsize plane series that will seat between 200 and 300. So far, 47 airlines -- including Continental Airlines Inc., Air Canada, Qantas Airways Ltd., Air India and Singapore Airlines Ltd. -- have signed up for 684 planes. They like the $153 million jetliner because it flies as fast as jumbos and gets 20 percent better fuel economy.

But will we? I flew to Seattle and headed to a nondescript warehouse in nearby Renton, where Boeing has mocked up the new plane's interiors.

Until Japan's All Nippon Airways Co. puts the first 787 in service next May, the mockup is as close to the 787's experience as you can get. A plane fitted with test gear rather than seats begins airborne trials in September.

The jetliner, half the size of rival Airbus's new 525-seat monster A380, aims at profitable long hauls of as much as 9,800 miles (15,750 kilometers). Though Boeing claims the 787 offers an improved passenger experience, don't expect miracles. Inches saved are dollars earned.

Thinner Seats

The arched ceiling adds an enticing sense of visual space to business and first class. Boeing supplies more carry-on luggage storage, but otherwise the difference for premium-class passengers boils down to the size, legroom and adjustability of the seats -- affected by airline choice rather than Boeing design.

Boeing has involved itself more deeply than usual in the design of the torture devices known as coach seats, items normally purchased by the airlines themselves. Pitch -- the distance fore and aft between seats -- is the usual meager 32 inches, though Boeing has carved out a bit more knee room by thinning the seatback. In terms of back, lumbar and thigh support, the 787's economy seats remain in the ergonomic stone age.

Most airlines install 17- or 18-inch-wide coach seats. The 787 offers a magnificent 18.5 inches, or 47 centimeters. Kenneth G. Price, a regional marketing director who was my guide, hastened to explain that such a small difference means far more at shoulder height.

We can scrunch our shoulders less without fear of bumping a fellow passenger. ``Our sense of personal space is perceived with the eyes and is not connected to seat width,'' he explained, citing company research. Boeing has concluded that addressing the psyche is as effective as adding more space. I hope mine is up to it.

Wider Cabin

Boeing's payloads department -- passengers are payload -- added a few more precious inches by making the 787 cabin's outer wall almost straight, not sloped in, and by widening the aisles.

``We shaped the fuselage for more visual spaciousness,'' Price said. The overhead bins tuck more tightly to the cabin wall when closed, even though they are larger than in similar planes flying today. Light-emitting diodes set into the ceiling offer a welcome change from sallow fluorescents. Boeing narrowed the seatback tops to broaden vistas for short passengers.

High-Tech Windows

Windows are as much as 60 percent larger. An electrochromic layer in the glass tints to reduce sun glare and improve video viewing while still permitting passengers to see out (shades are eliminated).

The 787 will pump air into the cabin at a higher atmospheric pressure, so you'll breathe as if you were at 6,000 feet instead of the typical 8,000. That reduces muscle fatigue and headache, Price explained. Greater humidification (ranging from a still-arid 10 percent to 15 percent) and better filtration technology should reduce eye irritation. The cabin will be quieter.

What makes passengers happiest, the company's research found, is that vanishing amenity: the empty adjacent seat. The nine-across arrangement of 3-3-3 seats sounds almost civilized when you realize that six can be filled before anyone in the row has a neighbor (compared with a 2-5-2 layout in which only four seats are filled before you must share the row). You may never again see an empty seat, but Boeing lets us hope.

(James S. Russell is Bloomberg's U.S. architecture and design critic. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this story: James S. Russell in New York at [email protected] .
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