Dreamliner becomes reality
What's green and plastic and costs $10 billion? The world's most anticipated aircraft, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which will be taking up residence on runways from London to Las Vegas any day soon.
More than three years overdue and bedevilled by manufacturing woes and false starts, the plane they call the "iPhone of aviation" is finally taking shape on assembly lines in Washington state, as the last coat of paint dries on its state-of-the-art frame.
In an era of sky-high oil prices, it couldn't have come at a better time. This next-generation aircraft, which will replace the ageing 767, is the first passenger plane made mainly from plastic, making it much lighter than predecessors and more fuel efficient than any other aircraft in the skies.
It uses 20pc less fuel than planes of an equivalent size, saving airlines tens of millions of euro in oil bills every year and enabling them to fly further. It will also be the least polluting aircraft ever used on commercial routes.
Despite the endless delays on the production line, which Boeing admits were caused by an over-reliance on outsourcing, 56 carriers including British Airways, Etihad and Qantas have already placed 850 orders for the plane.
The success of the Dreamliner is crucial to the American firm in its commercial rivalry with Europe's Airbus, which is unlikely to launch its first composite plane until 2013.
Neither Aer Lingus, which flies Airbus, or Ryanair will be purchasing the new plane, which carries about 250 people on a range of about 9,000 miles.
But what will this new milestone in aviation mean for passengers? For a start, flying will become a much quieter experience thanks to the plane's lightweight design and improved aerodynamics, which will reduce turbulence and bumpy landings too.
Half of the plane's structure is made from plastic reinforced with carbon fibre, which is both lighter and stronger than aluminium.
With bigger seats in economy and more legroom than on any current aircraft, passengers will be able to stretch out in comfort. Wider aisles will mean no more waiting for the food trolley to pass just as you decide to stretch your legs.
Passengers will also be able to visit juice bars to rehydrate themselves and will have Wi-Fi and massage kits built into their seats.
Boeing also claims its new model will leave travellers feeling more refreshed when they reach their destination, as they will be surrounded by technologies that fight jet lag during their flight.
Inside the cabin, bigger windows and specially designed LED lighting that fades slowly, mimicking the rise and fall of the sun, will make the body think it is in a natural environment, maintaining sleep cycles and easing travel sickness.
The tedium of long-haul flights will also be relieved by cutting-edge filtration systems that will mean cleaner air and lower cabin pressure, leaving passengers less weary after a long flight. A gas filtration system will wipe out nasty odours from the galley and the engines.
Despite the earthquake, the Dreamliner's first customer, Japan Airlines (JAL), is on standby to take delivery of the aircraft this summer.