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Just as The Beatles led the British Invasion of the 1960's in America, the 787 Dreamliner invaded Britain and later Norway for two weeks that aviation fans won't soon forget. The airplane was especially a hit in Manchester and Oslo, where spotters packed the fields around the runways, climbed on top of cars and clogged roads for a chance to see the Dreamliner in action.
The sixth leg of the Dream Tour kicked off April 22 at London's Heathrow Airport. The visit was a chance for Boeing to show off the airplane to Thomson Airways, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic-customers who hold orders for 48 787s in total-as well as 13 UK suppliers who bring the Dreamliner to life.
"Our partnership with the aviation and aerospace sectors in the United Kingdom stretches back over 70 years. The UK remains a critically important market, supplier base and a source of some of the world's most inventive technology partners," said Randy Tinseth, Vice President of Marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
During the week-long visit to the UK that also included visits to London's Gatwick Airport and Manchester, airline executives were able to tour the airplane and see it in action. A demonstration flight gave everyone on board an incredible view of the White Cliffs of Dover through the 787's windows. Airline execs say they can't wait for their passengers to experience the airplane for themselves.
"As the UK's third-largest airline, it is a major coup for us to become the first UK airline to take delivery of the 787 Dreamliner," said Chris Browne, managing director of Thomson Airways. "Starting to fly the Dreamliner in our summer 2013 flying program is a key step in our journey to modernize the holiday experience we provide for our customers."
Aviation fans also anxiously awaited every stop in the UK, turning out in full force at Manchester Airport's runway visitor park. The Dreamliner delighted crowds with a low flyby and demonstrating the airplane's significantly quieter engines.
Some of the best reviews of the 787 came from airline employees. They say the Dreamliner will no doubt change the passenger experience and add to their customer service.
"It takes that claustrophobic feeling out of flying. I just love the spaciousness," said Mary Berry, who supports the charity programs for British Airways. "But even more so, the environmental benefits are a very critical to us. We can actually stand up and say we are addressing the environmental issues with this airplane."
"It's a very nice impression you get when you first walk in. I don't feel like I've just been in an airplane. I feel like I've been in a lovely home," said a British Airways crew member after touring the airplane.
That home away from home in the skies can't come soon enough for UK customers.
After a short flight from London, the 787 landed in Oslo, Norway on May 1. Oslo's airport is notorious for being socked in by fog. But on this day, blue skies and sun welcome the Dreamliner-along with spotters who created a scene of their own. Drivers pulled off on the side of the roads around the airport causing a traffic jam-- and hundreds of other people lined the nearby fields and hillsides. For the Norwegian Air Shuttle pilot who was landing the airplane, the sight was emotional.
"It was almost overwhelming. When you look out and see the large reception we had here -- the enthusiasm is simply amazing," said Capt. Torstein Hoås.
Hoås' colleague, Capt. Tomas Hesthammar, also took a turn at the controls during the ferry flight from London. Both pilots say flying the 787 is something they've looked forward to since Norwegian placed its first order for the Dreamliner. And the airplane lived up to its billing.
"The plane handles incredibly well -- nice and smooth. You really have great control of the aircraft," said Hesthammar.
As the 787 was opened up for tours at the Oslo airport over the next two days, one man seemed to have a permanent smile on his face. Indeed, Bjorn Kjos has a lot to smile about. The CEO of Norwegian, who is treated like a Hollywood star by the local media, was more than happy to pose for cameras as he toured the airplane.
"We will love to start flying this airplane. It will revolutionize the airline industry," Kjos said as he sat in the flight deck of the 787.
The Dreamliner will be a key part of Norwegian's future growth. The third-largest low-cost airline in Europe has three 787-8s on firm order, with commitments to lease three additional 787s. The airline also recently signed a 12-year GoldCare agreement that covers its future Dreamliner fleet.
"It will open up markets for us in the Far East, and that is where you will see amazing growth in the future," he said.
The Norwegian CEO, who flew on the Dreamliner for the first time during a demonstration flight in Norway, said his airline is already planning new service on the 787 with direct routes from Oslo and Stockholm to Bangkok and New York. As for the public's incredible response to the airplane being in Norway, Kjos summed it up this way.
"Their reaction is like seeing a spaceship. This is the future."