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Air Canada: Why adding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner could be a travel gamechanger Mar 04

Video: Air Canada’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner Fleet

Air Canada has ordered 37 Boeing Dreamliners. This next generation plane is a possible game changer in the world of travel.

Air Canada is pinning its future business strategy on Boeing’s new 787 jet that will enable the airline to expand to new destinations especially in emerging markets like China and India.

The long-anticipated 787 plane, also known as the Dreamliner, made a stop in Toronto on Friday as part of Air Canada’s 75th anniversary celebrations. The fuel-efficient plane, made of composite plastic, has the potential to transform airline travel, and possibly the aviation industry.

But it has had a bumpy start, with deliveries delayed by more than three years as Boeing dealt with repeated glitches.

To date, only five planes have been delivered to customers with 865 on order, and the airline currently is finishing two and half planes a month, with a production goal of getting to 10 a month by end of 2013.

More than half the jetliner is made of composite plastic including the fuselage and the wings – mimicking a bird’s wing at an angle. Much less metal is used, making it lighter by about 13 tonnes, and more fuel efficient, saving airlines about 20 per cent fuel compared with the 767 plane.

For passengers, it means airlines can add more humidity in the cabin because of fewer concerns over rust.

Boeing also estimated it will result in 30 per cent less maintenance costs because composite carbon fibres don’t corrode, and has a much longer fatigue life, said Carrie Shiu, regional director of product marketing.

Air Canada has ordered 37 of these planes, with the first seven expected to be delivered in 2014. Boeing sells the plane for $190 million (U.S.). The remaining 30 will be delivered between 2015 and 2019. These planes will replace the Boeing 767-300ER and Airbus A330 fleets.

The midsize plane, which can seat between 210 and 290 passengers, gives the airline more flexibility, to fly cities across the Atlantic, Pacific and South America that currently may not have enough demand to fill the much larger 777 plane.

While the airline is not announcing any new routes or plans, Air Canada’s president and CEO Calin Rovinescu told reporters it can open new markets.

For example, Air Canada offers six daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai, but there are other secondary cities in China as well as India. Even Moscow could be a possibility.

“It’s an aircraft that has ultra-long range, a lower cost because it consumes less fuel and fewer seats than a triple 7,” Rovinescu said. “It’s an ideal aircraft to try some longer range but thinner routes.”

Rovinescu who has flown the 787 as a passenger over Africa called it a completely different experience.

“It is quieter. The air quality is outstanding,” he said, noting the LED lighting can create the feeling of being in sunlight.

But the biggest surprise was the wings.

“The wings are literally emulating the movement of a bird. The wing is capable of going to an almost 45 degree angle. It’s quite a remarkable engineering feat,” he said.

Boeing’s production delays mean Air Canada had to keep its 767 planes in use longer – so there were incremental maintenance costs.

While Air Canada was unhappy with the delay, the bright side is the airline would have taken delivery in the middle of a recession where capital is more constrained.

All Nippon Airways of Japan was the first to take delivery of the Dreamliner last fall and to date it has carried more than 10,000 passengers.

Boeing’s Shiu believes the Dreamliner’s use of composite plastic could have wider applications.

“We are breaking new ground in the application of this material because of the complex shape that we can now build,” she said.

Construction of this plane is also unusual because various parts were made all over the world – including the wing body bearing which was built by Boeing Canada in Winnipeg.

Finally assembly takes place at two plants, one in Washington and the other in South Carolina.

“This is actually better than if we just keep it in-house,” she said, noting they had partners around the world.

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