Friday, March 16, 2012

Boeing 787 Dreamliner kicks off global tour in Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY — There is a lot to know about Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, like the fact it gets 20 percent better fuel economy, in part, because the carbon fiber structure has 1.2 million fewer fasteners than aluminum-skinned airliners.

The composite structure is flexible and durable enough the wingtips can flex upwards until they touch each other — though you wouldn't want to be on board in weather conditions that would make that happen.

But here's what you really want to know about the Dreamie: There is more room under the seats for your feet; the windows are a lot bigger for a better view and have electronic darkening; the ceilings are higher so the cabin feels less like being inside a tube; the cabin air is a lot moister so your eyes don't dry up and fall out while counting the seconds until the beverage cart rolls by to soothe your dehydration — and the overhead luggage bins are 50 percent larger.

Boeing is doing a global show-and-tell with its newest aircraft, and the plane whispered into the Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday after a similar event in Long Beach. That's another thing: the engine design makes its two engines quieter, which may be of as much interest to people living under the airport approach as the passengers on board.

VIPs and the media got the nickel tour of the new aircraft Thursday, followed by the 700 workers at Boeing's Utah operations, where structure for the 787's flight deck and its vertical stabilizer are built.

Saved for Thursday's event was the announcement the Boeing fabrication plant on the east side of the airport will also be building some of the 787's horizontal stabilizers soon — about four a month once the Salt Lake facility fully ramps up, according to Craig Trewet, Boeing's Salt Lake City director.

New work also means more jobs, with the current workforce in Salt Lake City of 520 expected to grow to 660 by the end of the year. Boeing also has a plant in Ogden and contract suppliers in the state that support the supply chain for the new Dreamliner. Parts are then shipped to two final assembly plants. The primary assembly location outside Seattle puts jets together in a building large enough that Disneyland could fit inside.

Boeing unveiled the 787 on July 8, 2007, but numerous program delays pushed the projected May 2008 in-service date to this past September.

"It's not been the smoothest of roads, but we're proud of what we have done," said Ross R. Bogue, vice president and general manager of Boeing Fabrication.

Individual airlines hold their future route and equipment plans close to the vest, so it's hard to say which airlines might be flying 787s in and out of Salt Lake City, or when, said 787 communications manager Lori Gunter.

Only five 787s are in service so far, all with ANA Airlines in Japan. Boeing has orders for about 870 Dreamies at this point, which will take until 2019 to build and deliver, Gunter said. Full scale, Boeing expects to build and deliver about 10 Dreamliners a month.

The Boeing staff showing off the Dreamliner on Thursday made comparisons between the 787 and its other equipment, with the boost in fuel economy compared to the 767; and to Airbus, its only global competitor for large, commercial aircraft.

A "happier, more refreshed customer" was a top priority in the development of the Dreamliner, Bogue said.

Humidity is dropped to near zero in metal-framed aircraft to reduce corrosion, resulting in dry eyes and dehydration for the people aboard. The 787's largely carbon-fiber construction allows cabin moisture of a much more comfortable 15 percent. Air filtration, in addition to reducing particulates, is also designed to remove undesirable gaseous odors, like lingering food smells and smells from other passengers.

The particular seating experience for passengers depends on the airline. Boeing offers a number of different seating configurations, like fully-reclining seats in first class, that are among the options that drive the base price of the plane from $185 million to a top end of $218 million.

Room for feet is improved by moving electronics for passenger entertainment systems from under each seat to below the floor deck. The higher ceilings and bigger windows helps passengers "reconnect with the magic of the flying experience," Bogue said.

For the pilots, the cockpit features heads-up displays more common in military fighters and a sleeping loft above and behind the cockpit to accommodate crew rest required on longer flights.

Boeing's 700-series passenger jets date back to the launch of the 707 in 1958. Military versions of the 707 can still be seen on the east side of the Salt Lake City International Airport as part of the National Guard's refueling tanker fleet. says it's a myth to label any future Boeing projects as the 797, but sooner or later the aircraft giant will run out of 700s.

What will the naming convention be after that?

"Nobody knows," Gunter shrugged.

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