Simon Usborne: Dreamliner almost airborne after five years of waiting in the wings
IT was absent from the arrivals boards, but all eyes at Heathrow Airport yesterday were on a flight that has been delayed by about five years after the most turbulent journey in aviation history.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the rain-soaked tarmac outside the royal suite touched down in London for the first time in the early hours. The first orders for the jet were placed in 2004.
Airline executives and reporters were given a first look behind the window shades of the troubled liner -- except that there were none; the fuselage is equipped with auto-dimming "smart glass" which can be turned dark or clear with the flick of a switch.
The Dreamliner's journey from the drawing to the departure board was delayed by a series of technical blunders that, at one point, would have allowed passengers to take control of the plane using their seat-back televisions.
The screens were black yesterday, as Boeing presented a mocked-up vision of the hi-tech interior as part of the manufacturer's "dream tour". Next stop: Manchester and Glasgow.
The 787 made its commercial debut last October in Japan but passengers in Europe must wait another year before enjoying the aircraft's features, which also include car-sized overhead bins, and a roominess to suit even the most claustrophobic flyer. Further delays permitting, Dreamliners will soon sport the colours of Thomson Airways, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Most of the 787's innovation lies under the carpet. Half of the jet is made of lightweight composite material, meaning it uses 20pc less fuel than planes of a similar size, makes 60pc less noise, and can fly for 8,500 nautical miles, potentially opening new direct routes from London to Honolulu, Santiago or Bali.
The non-corrosive materials used to build the plane mean it can be pressurised to lower, more humid altitudes, improving the air quality in the cabin.
Chris Browne was enjoying the view from economy. It looked bleak in the rain yesterday, but for a woman who's waited seven years, it was beautiful. "I can remember my hand shaking as I signed the order in 2005," she said.
Ms Browne was then the managing director of First Choice, the first UK airline to order 787s. Delivery was set for February 2009 but it will now be May 2013 when the airline, now Thomson Airways, will chart four jets from the UK.
British Airways takes delivery some time in 2013, while Virgin expects its planes in 2014.
Ms Browne was due to stay on board yesterday for the short hop to Manchester. "I'll be like a giddy child," she says. "I've been working on this aircraft for so long that to actually see it take off will be fantastic. At time of going to press, however, her flight was delayed. (© Independent News Service)