Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner will be safer for passengers and better for the environment, the aircraft manufacturer's environmental expert Jeff Hawk says.
The 787-8 ushers in a new way of building big planes -- it is largely made from composite materials and will be the first airliner with a carbon fibre fuselage instead of aluminium.
The airliner is also the first to be designed from scratch since the hugely successful Boeing 777 in the early 1990s.
An all-new design has allowed Boeing's engineers to optimise the advantages of new materials, engines, systems and design to create a more efficient aircraft than would have been possible by updating an existing design with only some of those advances, Mr Hawk says.
As a result, according to Boeing, the 787 will, for its size, be environmentally friendlier than any other airliner flying today on three fronts; fuel, emissions and noise.
Most of those benefits flow directly from the use of composite materials which are 15 per cent to 20 per cent lighter than metals and make up nearly half of the total aircraft.
Less weight equals the need for less powerful engines, which in turn weigh a little less, so the structure they are bolted to doesn't need to be quite as beefy, Mr Hawk says.
"That is an example of integration, when you combine related functions to have an optimum design."
The aircraft will burn 20 per cent less fuel than the Boeing 767 it replaces and the 777, Mr Hawkins says. For airlines struggling under the weight of record oil prices, that is money in the bank.
The engines made by Rolls Royce or General Electric will also reduce emissions by about the same amount, while powering the jet to the same speed as existing airliners -- about 85 per cent of the speed of sound.
People living near airports will suffer less noise pollution from the 787.
A shark tooth edge on the rear of the engine casing dampens noise and more aerodynamically designed wing flaps, used during takeoff and landing, will help to reduce the 787's noise "footprint" to about half that of existing similar sized jets.
Mr Hawk says the 787 will not exceed decibel limits beyond the airport boundary.
That will also have an economic spin-off for airlines and airports.
Lower noise pollution will allow airlines to fly into many airports with noise curfew restrictions more often or later into the evening.
On the inside, passengers will experience better cabin air pressure and humidity than previously possible, reducing symptoms such as headaches, sinus discomfort and dry eyes associated prolonged exposure to high altitudes and dry air.
The cabin pressure in jetliners is the equivalent to an altitude of 8000 feet (2438 metres). On the 787 that reduces to 6000 feet.
A study by the Oklahoma University found there was no difference in wellbeing between air density at 600 feet and 6000 feet, but a rapid deterioration at higher altitudes, Mr Hawk says.
The unique properties of carbon fibre also mean the windows will be 50 per cent bigger and even the toilets could get a view.
The fire resistant properties of carbon fibre are also expected to improve the chances of passenger survival in a crash. Aluminium melts in about one minute in a post-crash fire.
Carbon fibre withstands a fire for more than five minutes, providing crucial time to allow passengers to escape, Mr Hawk says.
Boeing made an unexpected discovery during strength testing of the fuselage which showed cabin pressure was maintained even after a 30cm-long steel blade was fired through the aircraft skin.
The carbon fibres had remained interwoven, in effect resealing the hole, even when pressure was increased.
The 787 incorporates much of the technology developed for Boeing's abandoned Sonic Cruiser which would have flown close to the speed of sound.
The Sonic Cruiser was rejected by airlines which were looking for greater fuel efficiency rather than increased speed.
Already, the 787 has been the most successful new airliner in history with 28 airlines ordering more than 400 aircraft since April 2004 across three models, collectively worth more than US$55 billion.
The first 787-8 test flight is scheduled for August next year. Japanese airline All Nippon Airways will take delivery of the first jet in May 2008 as part of an order for 50.
Air New Zealand has ordered four of the larger and longer-range 787-9 model due for delivery from 2010. The airline has an option on a further 10.
Air New Zealand is counting on the 787 to open a host of new route possibilities, including India, South America and Canada.
Wellington International Airport is hoping the 787 will provide the capital with its first direct long-haul connection to Asia.
Boeing expects airlines will buy 3500 of the 787 or its Airbus A350 rival in he next 20 years.
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