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Aircraft innovations ushering in an era of fuel efficiency and cabin enhancements appear to be bolstering the debt-laden sector, but do corporates actually care? Andy Hoskins reports


FEVER Cabin


THE aviation sector might have been subject to some severe economic turbulence in the last two years, but airlines nevertheless continue to invest in their cabin product with an abandon that belies the sullen mood of their bean counters. While many are laden with debts or struggling


to find the silver lining in this particular financial cloud, some continue to spend great wads of cash on adding an inch to their business class flatbeds or placing orders for a handful of Dreamliners or Super Jumbos. Lumping the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380 together in the same sentence might now be commonplace, but it’s not exactly comparing apples with apples – more like beauty and the beast. The two very different aircraft have undoubtedly stirred more interest than most before them, and are both a milestone in aircraft evolution, but they serve very different markets. The lean, green Dreamliner looks set to open


up new long-haul connections between regional airports, while the behemoth that is the A380 serves mass market airport hubs where demand is high and slots are in short supply. The latter took off on commercial activities in December 2007 to a hubbub of excitement, seating anything from 450 to 800 passengers in cabin space that is 50 per cent bigger than the stalwart B747. Airbus also says the A380 burns 20 per cent less fuel than the next biggest aircraft in operation today – a crucial efficiency. “The A380 has drawn passengers even during downturns, capturing new or existing traffic from competitors,” says Richard Carcaillet, director of A380 product marketing at Airbus. “The aircraft has demonstrated its ability to improve the operating airlines’ market share.” There are now 33 A380s in operation across


the fleets of Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Air France and, most recently, Lufthansa, with each carrier using it as a platform to showcase its latest cabin tweaks and additions.


At the recent Farnborough International Air Show, aircraft orders lodged across all manufacturers totalled over £30billion, with Airbus’ share of the goods prompting its chief operating officer, John Leahy, to pronounce the global recession over. “There’s no wonder why the airlines are placing orders,“ he said. “Liquidity is back in the market, traffic is back in the market, and GDP growth is back. It looks like we’ve turned the corner and that’s why we’re seeing strong growth.” The air show’s biggest star, though, was the Boeing Dreamliner. It was the next generation aircraft’s international debut, having flown direct from Boeing headquarters in Seattle and was the only one of the test fleet to be partially mocked- up with a commercial cabin. After touring the show model, Dorota


Michalska, fleet manager for LOT Polish Airlines, reported “very nice windows” – they’re 8cm taller than most and feature a clever dimmer switch rather than traditional blind – adding that “from a customer perspective, it’s a great aircraft. It will very likely be in our fleet for a long time.” Theirs, and probably that of the other 55 future customers too. For Boeing currently has over 860 orders for the Dreamliner – dwarfing Airbus’ 234 for the A380 – thanks to the economical and environmental gains it promises to deliver. Engineering boffins will be wowed by the Dreamliner’s carbon composite construction which eliminates over 1,500 aluminium sheets, 50,000 fasteners and 60 miles of copper wire, but the upshot is a lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, capable of flying longer distances. ANA is the patient launch customer for the Dreamliner, whose latest delivery date has been pushed back to early next year, but in the UK – and Europe, for that matter – it’s Thomson Airways who got in there first. While the airline might have eyes only for the leisure market, the Dreamliner’s potential will resonate with


business-minded carriers too. “It really pushes the envelope of where we can fly to,” says the carrier’s managing director, Chris Browne. “We’re looking at taking this aircraft to lots of regional departure points. We wanted something cost effective that gives better customer comfort and is going to be more environmentally friendly. The bottom line is important too,” she adds. Boeing estimates its delivery of Dreamliners


will help connect at least 450 new city pairs around the world and continues to flaunt the aircraft's green credentials. “Our customers told us they wanted an airplane that had the seating capacity of a 767 and the range and speed of a 777 or 747,” says John Roundhill, former vp of product development for Boeing commercial. “And that is just what we are giving them.


Every 787 delivered will give airlines an airplane that makes a strong different to their fleets. In this segment of the market, there is no airplane in service today or on the drawing boards for the future that comes anywhere close to the efficiency of the 787 Dreamliner.”


SELECTED CABIN DEVELOPMENTS


Continental’s new flatbed BusinessFirst seat is now onboard all its services out of London Heathrow • US Airways has introduced a new Envoy Suite on its A330-200 aircraft serving London-Philadelphia • Gulf Air revealed its new premium product, Falcon Gold, earlier this year • Delta has announced a $1.3billion investment in ground and air product over a three-year period • Oman Air has introduced new cabins and aircraft, as well as the world’s first inflight mobile phone and wifi internet service • Korean Air is the next carrier to take delivery of the A380 and is also due to receive its first Dreamliner next year, while its extensive cabin upgrades continue across its fleet of wide-bodied aircraft • Alitalia has introduced its new Magnifica business class, complete with flatbed seats, and Classica Plus premium economy offering • Finnair is announcing a brand re-launch this November which is said to be incorporating the cabins too •





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