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.

Avgeek DREAM Come True — My First Boeing 787 Flight

I finally took my very first flight on board a Boeing 787 Dreamliner! I’ve been following this aircraft since it was on the drawing board, and still called the 7E7. I joined the World Design Team and participated in the naming contest, though “Dreamliner” did not get my vote. In 2008. my wife and I even made a special Seattle detour prior to an Alaskan cruise, just to see the first 787 (ZA001) on the assembly line in Everett.

I had toured a couple of 787s in the past, including test aircraft ZA003 during Boeing’s World Dream Tour at DFW, and British Airways’ first 787-8, G-ZBJA, but I had yet to fly on one until this week. My inaugural flight was aboard British Airways’ first 787-9 Dreamliner, G-ZBKA.

My trip was part of a media assignment for AirwaysNews, and my full trip report will be on that site very soon. But here, I just wanted to share my experience in a more personal way, and reflect on some notes that I found interesting.

Before my flight, I had always made the assumption that the dimmable, electromagnetic window shades were more of a gimmick than something that was really necessary. This flight completely changed my mind! Leaving Heathrow, I sat in seat 1A, which had the sun on my side during the first half of the flight. I dimmed my window shortly after takeoff. The first couple of steps still allow you to see outside with a lot of detail, but without being blinded by direct sun. It became pleasant to look outside. With the window completely darkened, it wasn’t a full blackout, but the sunlight now appeared as moonlight, making the cloud tops glow beneath us as we soared over the North Atlantic.

British Airways' 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.
British Airways’ 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Everything about the flight was excellent, from the quiet cabin to the service by the flight attendants, the seat comfort, and entertainment options. As you’ll see in the photo above, the seat area is spacious, and appointed with high-end materials and features. Once again, there will be many more details about the trip on AirwaysNews, so please check it out.

I’ll have more 787 experience in the weeks to come, including a trip to the other side of the world, so stay tuned for that!

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.

Op-Ed: Alaska Air’s Snoozing Bag Handler Isn’t a Security Issue

photo by Paul Thompson
photo by Paul Thompson

In the fallout of the recent accidental stowaway of an Alaska Airlines baggage handler, (who was employed by a contractor service, by the way) “safety experts” are saying the incident should serve as a warning to carriers, calling it a security risk.

Not so fast! Every person working around planes on the ground (an area called “the ramp”) is authorized to be in, on, or under that aircraft by way of a background check and a identification badge called a SIDA badge (Secure Identification Display Area). And just to get to the ramp, the employee has to pass through several layers of security including personal bag searches, badge scans, fingerprint scans, and visual badge verifications be airport security personnel. Many of those checkpoints are also in view of surveillance cameras.

Safety consultant and former airline pilot John Cox told the Associated Press the concern is “How do you have something in the cargo bin that you don’t know is there?” But where is the risk, when all employees are eligible to be there, and all baggage and cargo is fully screened by the TSA?

Bags in the bin

Experts want more accountability from the airlines, to make sure every crew member is accounted for, before the flight departs. That is a fine idea, in theory – but it adds to the complication of the operation. Every airline does things differently, but there are always more agents there when the plane arrives than when it departs. Many airlines utilize employees to cover several gates, and when an agent is done with one flight, he or she often goes on to the next one before the first plane departs. To require the whole crew to stick around throughout the entire “turn” from start to finish would be an irresponsible waste of personnel resources. In addition, everyone working flights is an adult, and accountable for his or her own actions. They don’t need babysitters, and they shouldn’t be required to report to to a supervisor to say “Hey, I’m going over to Gate 34 now.”

I’ve worked in the belly of hundreds of planes, and I’ve seen guys take short naps under there while waiting for connecting bags to arrive. You may not realize this, but it’s not unusual for ramp agents to be on the clock for sixteen straight hours or longer. Airlines try to operate with as few staff on hand as possible, in order to cut costs – but when something like bad weather happens, the folks who are already at work are forced to stay past their normal clock-out time. The employees get paid extra, but it compounds work that has already left them physically and mentally exhausted.

If someone has the opportunity to catch a brief cat nap during down time, I think it actually makes things safer, because it helps revive them and make them more alert. The baggage contractor for Menzies Aviation who fell asleep in the bin of Alaska Airlines flight 448 on Monday isn’t a security risk. Not to make excuses for the guy… he should be held responsible for his actions, and possibly even fired. The plane was only in the air for fourteen minutes, but it wastes a lot of time and money to have to return the plane to the airport – not to mention the negative publicity. Let this serve as an example of irresponsibility, not a scary security risk.

My Avgeek Bucket List

I admit it. Sometimes, okay, frequently, I scroll through the updates of friends and colleagues I follow on Twitter & Facebook and I come down with a case of “Avgeek Envy.” Those who get to frequently fly to far-off places just to sample and write about the latest aircraft seating innovation or aircraft introduction. I often read these posts and think “gosh, why can’t that be me?”

But then, I remind myself that in most cases, these are just examples of passengers being along for the ride. I’m fortunate enough to be involved in the day to day operation of a major commercial airline. Very few of these people I envy have ever marshaled a 120,000 pound plane to its stop mark on arrival. They haven’t had to plan how to load an aircraft, or be accountable for its on-time departure, while protecting the aircraft, customers and coworkers from damage and harm.

I’d like to think that some of the people I envy also envy some of the cool things I get to do daily. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of aviation-related things I’d like to do in the near future – so I present my Avgeek Bucket List:

(In no Particular order)

Ride in a B-17 Bomber
Ride in a P-51 Mustang
Ride in a modern military jet
Skydive (planning for my 40th birthday)
Ride in a private jet (any private jet will suffice)
Ride in a hot air balloon
Ride in a zero gravity plane (weightless simulation)
Fly over the International Date Line
Fly over the Equator
Barrel roll – preferably in the P-51 mentioned above
Tour other commercial assembly lines – Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier
Attend a major international air show as a writer (Farnborough, Dubai or Paris)
Participate in a commercial aircraft delivery flight
Fly a plane, including takeoff & landing
Circumnavigate the globe, starting and ending at the same point
Fly over 100,000 miles in a year
Hang gliding
Fly to every continent. So far I’ve only flown within the U.S. and Europe.
Fly on the following aircraft types I have yet to fly: 747-8i, 787, 737-900, A318, A321, A330, A340, [any and all regional planes except the Embraer 190 and ATR-72]
Avgeek accomplishments

Tour Boeing aircraft factories in Everett & Renton Washington
Attend Space Shuttle Launch (Atlantis STS-129 Nov 16, 2009)
Witnessed the landing of the Solar Impulse at DFW Airport
Flew on Lufthansa inaugural A380 flight from Frankfurt to JFK
Attended British Airways A380 & 787 introduction ceremony
Flew on a sea plane (1950 Grumman Albatross)
Photo-documented the final landing and museum installation of the very first Boeing 737-300 (N300SW)
Landed (as a passenger) on the USS George H.W. Bush while it was at sea. Spent 24 hours on board as a “Distinguished Visitor,” and departed the next morning via catapult launch.
Over 490 flights and 285,000 miles flown since 2001 (when I began recording trips)

 

 

 

 

 

The NEW American Airlines

At 9:00 this morning in Dallas, and all over the Internet, American Airlines unveiled its first branding change in four decades. The airline began early in the morning by posting a countdown clock, teasing its social media followers into a frenzy of conversation and speculation.

Countdown

About an hour before the official unveiling, an image of the logo was leaked online via Twitter user @gatsby:

Logo 1

Personally, I think the logo is pretty smart! It’s a modern interpretation of their logo, evoking a half “A” with what is presumably the head of an eagle. It also brought the Texas flag to my mind.  Regarding the tail, it’s a bold statement that says “American” – loud and clear! One person I follow mentioned that it really seems to convey a message of power.

You may click here to view video from American regarding the changes made to the brand:

img_aa_newamerican2
Image provided by American Airlines

Throughout the morning, I followed tweets about how various people were receiving the new branding message. Generally it seemed that most people like the new logo over the tail design. I viewed CEO Tom Horton’s press conference online, and the 737-800 they had on display looks even better than in some of the early images I had seen. The paint wasn’t light gray we many originally thought – but in the hangar, under lights, I noticed a pleasing pearl-like sheen to the paint – like that which you’d find on a luxury car. At that point, I felt a suggestion of class and power. American has come a long way since going into bankruptcy, and this clean image will help take into the decades to come.

There are some noticeable similarities in the tail areas between this and US Airways’ current livery – and as rumors continue to swirl around a potential merger with US Airways, I think this livery would tie into the US Airways brand as well.