B787 SPECIAL REPORT
Tom Otley outlines the past, present and future of the increasingly popular Dreamliner
There’s something unique about a brand-new aircraft. It’s not just the fresh-out-of-the box smell, or the sight of an interior as the designer intended it, rather than following the wear and tear of hundreds of passengers. It’s not even the specially selected crew accompanying you on the inaugural flight, or the senior pilot chosen to fly it home. It’s the difference of approach. Geographically, this is because you are flying directly from the factory, whether it’s Boeing at Everett, Washington, or North Charleston, South Carolina, or Airbus at Toulouse or Hamburg. Mentally, it’s because when you board an aircraft already in service, your excitement will be reserved for the destination; the aeroplane is just a means of conveying. Not so with a delivery. The whole day, week or, in the case of those who’ve planned this event, months and years have been spent looking forward to this moment, and when the aircraft is new generation – a B787 Dreamliner, for instance – the excitement goes up a level.
In part, this is because you have been prepped to notice the difference. Both Boeing’s Dreamliner, and Airbus’s answer to it, the A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body), of which more later, have been deliberately positioned as New Generation. The capitals suggest that they have formed a category all of their own, that they are a step change and represent a technological leap forward. They are made in
new ways from new materials and promise a new experience for those who fly them or are flown in them. Following years of waiting and, let’s face it, years of delays, these developments have been much anticipated and, now, here they are.
Boeing’s first B787 was delivered to All Nippon Airways in 2011 and, since then, more than 600 have followed. Boeing is increasing production in its two B787 factories in the US to 14 per month. Millions of passengers have already flown on them and a fair proportion may have asked themselves whether they noticed the “passenger enhancements” – the fresher air, the larger windows, the quieter cabin, the mood lighting, or the slightly increased cabin pressure that supposedly lessens the ill effects of long-haul travel and even jet lag. It’s possible for flyers to debate which aircraft they prefer – the A350, B787, or the double-decker A380. But for the majority of airlines and passengers, the A350 and the B787 have transformed long-haul flying. And as new variants arrive, new routes have opened.
There’s a fair chance that you have already flown on the B787 Dreamliner. It has become a significant player in many fleets, including those of Air Canada, Air India, American Airlines, ANA, British Airways, JAL, LATAM Chile, Norwegian, Qatar Airways and United. It is in common use across many long-haul routes. In fact, it was designed as a medium-sized, point-to-point aircraft that doesn’t need to go via hubs, and can operate cost-effectively on less popular routes. So although British Airways has 25 of them, as a regular flyer between our offices in London and Hong Kong, I know BA will be using its older, and larger, aircraft on routes such as these. (Although that route is twice-daily on either a B777-300ER or an A380, so no complaints there). Much the same principle applies to Emirates, which relies principally on A380s and B777-300ERs to ferry people to and from its Dubai hub – although it will join the Dreamliner Club after ordering 40 -10 planes at the recent Dubai Airshow (See Airshow feature).
It will come as no surprise that, for the airlines, the reason for buying these aircraft is because they are economical to run, not because we like large windows on a plane. The beauty of the B787 is its ability to fly long distances, cheaply. And it can even can carry a decent amount of freight in the hold, helping to provide extra revenue for the route. The result is that airlines make more money on routes for which the aircraft has the appropriate number of seats, and also have more freedom to experiment with routes that previously weren’t commercially viable.
Boeing positioned the aircraft as a “hub-buster”, or more prosaically, as a catalyst for “network fragmentation”, meaning that the B787 enables airlines to fly between new city pairs economically. Air India’s chairman and managing director, Rajiv Bansal, is clear that it has enabled the airline “to open numerous new and non-stop routes”. For British Airways a notable success has been London
to Austin, while for an airline like United it was San Francisco to Chengdu (BA had a B787 on its Chengdu route, but this was dropped in 2017). Qantas intends to fly one of its new B787-9 aircraft nonstop between London and Perth in 2018.
Ironically, although the B787 has certainly served this purpose for BA and dozens of other airlines, it has also allowed new entrants into the market – most noticeably Norwegian – to offer competition across the Atlantic at prices that previously would not have been possible. Meanwhile, a carrier such as Cathay, which opted for the A350 XWB, has been using its Airbus planes on new routes like Dusseldorf (since dropped), restarting its Hong Kong to London Gatwick flights, and, next year, using it on new routes such as Dublin and Brussels.
There are currently two Dreamliner variants – the B787-8, and the larger B787-9. A new one – the B787-10 – is coming in 2018 (the launch customer will be Singapore Airlines). Every airline configures its aircraft differently, and so the number of passengers that can be carried varies. If you want to know who gets the most on, or the fewest, head over to businesstraveller.com and our feature The B787: how the airlines compare. (We also have the same format for the A350 and the A380.)
Above: Etihad Airways operates 18 B787-9 Dreamliners to 17 destinations worldwide.
Main: Boeing displayed its B787-10 at Dubai Airshow 2017