Say Hello to My Stretched-Out Friend

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C., Feb. 17, 2017 – The Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner, the third member of the 787 Dreamliner family, made its debut today at Boeing South Carolina. Thousands of employees at the North Charleston, S.C. site celebrated the event. Trump was there too. During his speech he said, “The 787 is a beautiful airplane,” which may be the first time I agree with something he’s said.

787-10
Image courtesy Boeing

“What’s happening here at Boeing South Carolina is a true American success story,” said Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing chairman, president and CEO. “In just a few short years, our team has transformed a greenfield site into a modern aerospace production facility that is delivering 787s to airlines all over the world and supporting thousands of U.S. jobs in the process.”

The 787-10, built exclusively at Boeing South Carolina, will now be prepared for its first flight in the coming weeks.

“This airplane, the most efficient in its class, is the result of years of hard work and dedication from our Boeing teammates, suppliers and community partners in South Carolina and across the globe,” said Kevin McAllister, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO. “We know our customers, including launch customer Singapore Airlines, are going to love what the 787-10 will do for their fleets, and we can’t wait to see them fly it.”

Boeing will deliver the 787-10 to airlines in 2018. The airplane has won 149 orders from nine customers across the globe.

The 787-10, the longest model of the Dreamliner family, will grow the nonstop routes opened by the 787-8 and 787-9 with unprecedented efficiency. As an 18-foot (5.5-m) stretch of the 787-9, the 787-10 will deliver the 787 family’s preferred passenger experience and long range with up to 10 percent better fuel use and emissions than the competition. The 787 Dreamliner family is a key part of Boeing’s twin-aisle strategy, which offers a modern, optimized and efficient airplane family in every market segment. Since entering service in 2011, the 787 family has flown more than 140 million people on 530 routes around the world, saving an estimated 13 billion pounds of fuel.

I’ve flown on both versions of the 787 that are currently flying with airlines. My first 787 flight experience was with British Airways in autumn 2015, of their 787-9 inaugural flight from London Heathrow to Austin, Texas. A couple of weeks later, I flew with Qatar Airways on a 787-8 delivery flight from Seattle to Doha. Both flights were in the front, thank goodness. In economy, when airlines arrange their seats at 9-abreast, it can be quite tight.

In my humble opinion, the 787-10 is the most attractive Dreamliner yet. I’ll hopefully get a close-up look next week when I travel to Charleston, SC for the delivery of Korean Airlines’ first 787-9.

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Fish Out of Water! Southwest Promotes Shark Week

For the first time since late 2015, Southwest Airlines is flying a Boeing 737 featuring sea creatures, by partnering with the Discovery Channel to promote Shark Week. The 737-700, registered N422WN will fly for Southwest until August 31st this year.

Southwest Shark Week 2

“Now more than ever, brands have to be creative and unique in their approach to reach new Customers,” said Linda Rutherford, Chief Communication Officer for Southwest Airlines. “Partnering with Discovery’s Shark Week allows Southwest to connect with our Customers in a fun and memorable way. Only on Southwest can you enjoy this Shark Week experience, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Shark Week will air on Discovery Channel from June 26 – July 3rd. Southwest’s passengers will be able to view a Shark Week episode on Southwest’s flights for the whole month of June. Passengers and aviation geeks who see the Shark Week plane are encouraged to share photos with @SouthwestAir and @SharkWeek on Twitter, using the hashtag #sharkstakeflight and may receive special Shark Week gifts for doing so.

Enter the Dare to Dive Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (PVR), including roundtrip air travel for four on Southwest, a $2,000 hotel gift card, and a $1,000 Visa gift card to put toward an aquatic excursion for the entire family. For full rules and to enter for a chance to win, visit Southwest.com/SharkWeek.

For nearly thirty years, Southwest flew 737s painted with Sea World’s famous “Shamu” Orca, and more recently, one with penguins as well. However, those aircraft were all repainted near the end of 2015, when Southwest discontinued its partnership with Sea World, following backlash over a documentary film about Orcas living in captivity.

Airbus in America — A First Look Inside the New Mobile, Alabama Assembly Facility

It was July, 2012, when Airbus formally announced its first Aircraft assembly site on U.S. soil — a $600 million site to be built in Mobile, Alabama at Brookley Field. Airbus’ interest in Mobile actually goes back much further, to 2005, when the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company (EADS) chose Mobile as the potential building site for a proposed U.S. Air Force aerial refueling tanker. A few months later, Northrop Grumman announced it would partner with EADS to develop the tanker, in competition with Boeing’s KC-46A Pegasus, built on the Boeing 767 platform. EADS originally won the tanker contract, but Boeing protested the award, which eventually led to an admission of flaws in the bidding process by the Air Force. The contract was put up for re-bid, and Boeing eventually won.

Copyright Paul Thompson
Copyright Paul Thompson

Brookley Field was the site of Mobile’s first municipal airport, known as Bates Field. But the Army Air Corps took over the site in 1938 and established it as Brookley Army Air Field. During World War II, Brookley served as a major training site and supply depot, supporting the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. Airbus Chairman of the Americas Allan McArtor told us that Brookley was selected for its pre-existing airport, a good runway, ATC tower, and proximity to a deep water port. When asked if labor costs were a factor in choosing Mobile, Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said, “If we were looking specifically for cheap labor, we would build airplanes in Mexico.”

The vertical stabilizer of MSN 6512, the first A321 to be built in Mobile.
Looking into the Transshipment Hangar, the vertical stabilizer of MSN 6512, the first A321 to be built in Mobile. Copyright Paul Thompson.

On site at the manufacturing facility, we first saw the Transshipment Hangar. This is where the large components are staged, after being offloaded from a ship a few miles away at the Port of Mobile. Prior to being loaded onto a ship, the components (including the wings, vertical stabilizer, horizontal stabilizer, engine pylons and fuselage sections) are shipped from their respective fabrication sites around Europe to Hamburg, Germany.

MSN 6621, an A321 will go to American Airlines around Q2 of 2016.
MSN 6621, an A321 will go to American Airlines around Q2 of 2016. Seen at Station 41 in the Mobile assembly facility. Copyright Paul Thompson.

Airbus spokeswoman Kristi Tucker told us the facility is pretty much to support North American customers, which include Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, United and Virgin America, but they could go somewhere else, if needed. There are currently two aircraft on the production line, A321s for jetBlue and America Airlines. By 2017, the facility will go to “Rate 4,” or four aircraft per month. Tucker said the facility has the capability to produce up to eight monthly, with very little adjustment. McArtor elaborated on that further, explaining that a second paint shop would be required, along with an expanded flight line at which to park planes undergoing pre-delivery testing. The site sits on 116 acres, with another 116 acres available, should the need arise.

Aerial photo of Airbus' Final Assembly Line at Mobile. Photo courtesy Airbus.
Aerial photo of Airbus’ Final Assembly Line at Mobile. Photo courtesy Airbus.

Airbus Manager of Product Quality Timo Zaremba guided us through our tour of the facilities, at which all three types in the A320 family (A319, A320, and A321) will be built.” We are producing the major components in locations throughout Europe. We have the funny job of fitting all of these major components on an airplane,” he said. The first planes will be built with the current engine option, or CEO. Then in late 2017 or early 2018, a transition will be made to the new engine option, known as the NEO. When walking into the facility, the first station you come upon is Station 41, (pictured above) where the aft fuselage is joined with the forward fuselage. This process takes about 3,000 rivets. “Monuments” such as cabin galleys and lavatories are also installed at this point.

MSN 6512, an A321 for jetBlue in Station 40 at Mobile. Copyright Paul Thompson.
MSN 6512, an A321 for jetBlue in Station 40 at Mobile. Copyright Paul Thompson.

The planes’ next stop is Station 40, where the wings are joined, using a brand new automatic drilling process, yet to be implemented at other Airbus sites. The joining process takes approximately 1,200 additional rivets for each wing, set to an accuracy within one tenth of a millimeter. The landing gears are also installed and tested at Station 40. After this point, the plane is moved on its own wheels.

The first A321 to be produced in Mobile, for jetBlue. Copyright Paul Thompson.
The first A321 to be produced in Mobile, for jetBlue. Copyright Paul Thompson.

Tucker told us that when the announcement was made to build the A320 family in the United States in 2012, Airbus has about 19 percent of the domestic market share for commercial airliners. Now, three years later, they hold about 40 percent of the market. However, Airbus admittedly says that while airlines have expressed excitement to have U.S.-built planes, they can’t verify whether having them built here has directly contributed at an order.

Airbus Mobile Paint Shop. Copyright Paul Thompson.
Airbus Mobile Paint Shop. Copyright Paul Thompson.

The Airbus A320 series of aircraft is the workhorse aircraft for many of the world’s airline fleets. Since its introduction in the 1980s, the aircraft has received over 12,000 orders. Airbus says they currently home the domestic market share lead, when comparing the A320 to the 737-Next Generation, and predicts 4,730 new single-aisle planes will be needed to support U.S. airlines between now and 2035. “We don’t have very many customers here in the United States, but they are some of the biggest airlines,” said Barry Eccleston, President of Airbus Americas. American Airlines is Airbus’ largest customer in the world, having a fleet of A320-family aircraft, as well as A330s. Many of these planes originated with U.S. Airways, prior to the airlines’ merger in 2013. American also inherited orders for the widebody Airbus A350, which first went into service with Qatar Airways in January of this year. American is slated to begin receiving their A350s in 2017.

British Airways 787-9 Will Receive an All-New First Class

First Class on British Airways A380 (image via British Airways)
First Class on British Airways A380 (image via British Airways)

On Monday, British Airways announced the introductory routes and dates for its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which is due to arrive in September. BA currently has eight of the 787-8 variant, which is 20 feet shorter. They began service with the airline in 2013.

The first 787-9 routes, in a four-class configuration, will be between London and Delhi, beginning October 25th of this year. Following Delhi, the stretched Dreamliner will fly to Abu Dhabi, Muscat, and Kuala Lumpur. The 787-8s in the BA fleet do not have First Class. BA currently flies the 787-8 from London Heathrow to Austin, Calgary, Chengdu, Chennai, Hyderabad, Montreal, Philadelphia, Seoul and Toronto. However, BA will upgrade Austin service to the 777-200 this fall.

British Airways current First Class Suite. (image via British Airways)
British Airways current First Class Suite. (image via British Airways)

Unfortunately, British Airways did not release any images of what the 787-9 First Class cabin will look like, but they did release some details. The design of the First Class suites is based on customer feedback, with the intent on “putting comfort at the heart of the experience.” Each suite will house four storage areas, including a closet in which to hang suits and jackets, an ottoman for shoes, handbags and personal items, and a thoughtful storage area under your armrest, in which you can store personal electronic devices while they charge. One big improvement will be the large 23-inch fixed touchscreen IFE screens, which will run Panasonic’s eX3 IFE system. Previous suites have pivoting monitors that are required to be stowed during takeoff and landing.

The four classes on board British Airways 787-9 will consist of eight First Class suites arranged 1-2-1 the cabin, 42 Club World (Business Class) seats, 39 World Traveler Plus (Premium Economy) seats, and 127 World Traveler (Economy) Seats. Totaling 216 seats, British Airways’ longer Dreamliner will only hold 2 more passengers than its 787-8 model, which the airline has been flying since 2013. BA has 22 787-9s on order, as well as 12 even larger 787-10s, according to Boeing’s order books.

BA's 787-8 at London Heathrow, 2013. Photo by Paul Thompson
BA’s 787-8 at London Heathrow, 2013. Photo by Paul Thompson

British Airways is also in the process of updating 18 of its workhorse Boeing 747-400s, which will begin returning to service this September with a cabin facelift that will include an Inflight Entertainment upgrade featuring Panasonic’s eX3 system. According to RoutesOnline, these revamped aircraft will be used to serve New York JFK, Chicago, Lagos, Dubai, Boston, Riyadh and Kuwait, with other cities to be added as more planes return from refurbishment.