24/01/2006 - 21:00

Qantas looks to Boeing 787s for ‘hub-busting’ breakthrough

24/01/2006 - 21:00

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Qantas’ stunning $20 billion order for up to 115 Boeing 787s has the potential to revolutionise travel to and from Western Australia by the end of this decade.

Qantas looks to Boeing 787s for ‘hub-busting’ breakthrough

Qantas’ stunning $20 billion order for up to 115 Boeing 787s has the potential to revolutionise travel to and from Western Australia by the end of this decade.

The real impact of the record-breaking order is to be found in the significant modifications Boeing made to accommodate Qantas’ demands for greater range performance, which enable the 787 to fly London-Perth non-stop with a full commercial payload.

While a number of aircraft can perform that feat today, they are significantly bigger and more expensive than the 250- to 290-seat 787 series, and are therefore not economically viable for the Perth market.

The 290-seat 787-9 with the modifications to meet Qantas’ demands will be able to fly up to 16,280 kilometres with full passenger load. This will enable Perth passengers to fly non-stop to Europe and the US west coast, ushering in a new era of route opportunities.

Qantas has no aircraft capable of flying such routes and its longest-range aircraft, the 400-seat 747, can only fly from Singapore to London non-stop. Currently, all of Qantas’ Europe-bound passengers must transit a hub like Singapore.

Qantas’ Perth traffic can barely support daily 747 services, but with travellers demanding frequency there is a push for smaller aircraft to meet that demand.

Airlines such as Singapore Airlines offer three times daily 300- to 330-seat 777s to Singapore, while Emirates is about to introduce a second daily flight with 777s to Dubai.

However, the ultra-long range 787-9, which will seat about 290 passengers in a three-class layout, will give Qantas exciting opportunities to ‘hub-bust’ and offer Perth passengers non-stop flights, such as Perth-London, Perth-Los Angeles or Perth-Paris.

For more than a year, Qantas, facing expansion from Singapore Airlines and Emirates, both into Australia and across the Pacific, has been looking for an aircraft that could over-fly hubs such as Singapore, Dubai and Los Angeles and open up new routes.

Also of significance is the role Qantas’ lower cost subsidiary, Jetstar, and Jetstar International will play in the airline’s new strategy. The two low-cost airlines are part of the record breaking 787 order and will operate the aircraft in a two-class configuration offering business passengers yet another cost alternative – premium economy.

Jetstar announced last week that it will be launching services from Perth in March and that it will include international services from Perth in 2008.

Jetstar International, in fact, will take delivery of the first 787s for the group in mid 2008, when the first 787s are delivered to airlines. Qantas will get its first in 2009.

While the 787 has been the fastest selling twin-aisle aircraft ever, with 354 sold to 27 airlines in just 18 months, Boeing held production slots for key customers such as Qantas.

Qantas was definitely won over on the performance and price of the 787s and it expects the passengers to be won over by what’s inside.

It is probably no surprise to anyone that our bodies do not like being stuffed into an aluminium tube and shot through the air at 960km/h for one hour, let alone for 14.

That tube is pressurised to an altitude of 2,440 metres and has extremely low humidity to help eliminate corrosion damage to the fuselage – but this takes a toll on passengers. This is why airlines encourage us to drink plenty of water and to leave the alcohol alone.

According to a comprehensive study into ‘The Possible Effects on Health of Aircraft Cabin Environments’, commissioned by the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), some passengers may experience mild hypoxia at altitudes of 2,440m, the symptoms of which include reduced exercise capacity, fatigue, possible mild hyper-ventilation, headache, insomnia and swelling of the extremities. While the effects are very mild, they do combine to cause varying levels of discomfort.

However, the 787 sports an incredibly strong reinforced carbon-fibre (composite) fuselage, which has given designers the opportunity to eliminate some of the significant factors that cause jet lag.

The 787 will have a pressurisation altitude of just 1,230m and humidity levels between 15 and 20 per cent.

There in no doubt that the 787 is a game changer in interior design, just as the 747 was in 1970, and Boeing has again turned to leading industrial designer, Teague, for inspiration.

The composite structure of the 787 fuselage has enabled Boeing to cut windows that are more than twice the size of other aircraft windows, reducing the claustrophobic feeling that some passengers feel.

And they’re a pure joy for window gazers. No more shades to be pulled down by flight attendants as the 787 windows’ transparency will be controlled by photo-chromatic technology available in some business jets.

Flight attendants will control the overall range of the windows’ transparency and passengers will use seat dimmers to make individual adjustments. However, the dimming effect will be more like having sunglasses on the window to take out the glare.

The journey on the 787 is going to be significantly different from any other aircraft, with a smoother ride and a “library quiet” cabin.

While it is not possible to eliminate turbulence, Boeing laboratory data indicates the 787 ride will be at least 30 per cent smoother than the 777, which is itself considered an industry leader in ride quality.

A combination of the new high-technology engines and the state-of-the-art insulation is actually presenting Boeing with a dilemma – passengers want some reassuring noises and don’t want other passen-gers overhearing their conversations.

On the 787, Boeing claims it will virtually eliminate irritating sounds from pumps and motors, along with the sometimes-alarming aerodynamic noises when flaps are deployed.

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