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The dawn of a new jet era

What's green and plastic and has the biggest loos in the sky? Step forward an airplane that is tipped to change the face of flying forever: Boeing's long-awaited 787 Dreamliner.

Two years behind schedule, with a price tag of $6bn (€4bn), the first all-new jet aircraft of the 21st century is finally airborne, ushering in a new era in aviation and a generation of planes built with the traveller in mind.

A fortnight ago, with only a pilot and co-pilot on board, the 250-seater took off from Boeing's base in Seattle as part of a rigorous flight-test programme that will see six of its models being put through their paces around the globe day and night.

The high-tech jet will be flown through soaring heat, sub-zero temperatures, high altitudes and emergency situations to see how it copes with the extremities of weather and geography. If all goes to plan, the first passenger flights are expected to follow in the autumn.

Bigger windows, generous leg room, more stowage space and ultra-quiet Rolls Royce engines are just some of the perks on board what has been tipped to become the most successful commercial jet in the history of aviation.

Travellers will also be able to fly in the knowledge that the air they breathe during their flight is cleaner, coming from a separate source away from the engines, a practice which has, up to now, been considered too expensive in other aircraft.

Since the '60s, commercial aircraft have relied on a 'bleed air' system, using compressed air that is taken from the engines and pumped through the cabin. It is passed through filters that remove bacteria and viruses, but can leave oil fumes in the air exposing passengers and crew to potentially dangerous toxins.

The new airplane will create a more humid atmosphere in the cabin, resulting in fewer dry noses and throats and less dehydration, which in turn should make jet-lag easier to bear.

Special lighting, which will duplicate sunrise or sunset, will also help to lessen the impact of changing time zones. Boeing also promises a much smoother, more stable ride, resulting in what the company says will be an eight-fold reduction in motion sickness.

With airlines crippled by fluctuating oil prices, the cutting-edge jet, which is made of carbon and titanium rather than typical aluminium, is much lighter than its predecessors, making it more fuel efficient and cheaper to run.

Built for flights of some 8,200 nautical miles (9,400 miles; 15,200km), an unprecedented range for a passenger plane, it will also be able to go further than its counterparts.

So far, a record 840 Dreamliners have been ordered by 55 airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Continental and Singapore Airlines, but the world's second-largest plane manufacturer behind Airbus still has a long road ahead in proving that its new creation really is revolutionary.

If it succeeds, flying will never be the same again.

Irish Independent