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Airline customers say longer 787-9 will give them competitive advantage

By Eric Fetters-Walp

Air New Zealand’s Bruce Parton doesn’t mince words when talking about why his airline is happy to take the first 787-9 to deliver.
“We think the Dash 9 will be a game changer for our airline. It suits us very well as far as the missions we have, and it has huge customer appeal,” the airline’s chief operating officer said.

In the coming months, Air New Zealand, United Airlines, ANA and Virgin Atlantic Airways will be among the first airlines to receive the 787-9. Each has distinct plans for using the model to improve the efficient operation of existing long-haul routes, or connect new city pairs, just as the 787-8 has done. For example, United Airlines, the first North American–based airline to take delivery of both the 787-8 and the 787-9, plans to fly the model six times a week between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia—it will be the world’s longest Dreamliner route at 6,790 nautical miles (7,927 miles, or 12,757 kilometers).

“The Dreamliner gives us tremendous competitive advantages,” said Ron Baur, United’s vice president of Fleet. “With up to 30 percent more range than similarly sized aircraft, the 787 opens up new nonstop destinations that we would not otherwise be able to operate. It gives us even more flexibility and range to capitalize on our extensive worldwide route network.”
The 787-9 is 20 feet (6 meters) longer than the 787-8 and can carry more passengers and cargo, yet fly farther—450 nautical miles (520 miles, or 830 kilometers).

The 787-9’s extra capability on long-haul routes makes it attractive to many airlines, but it’s essential for service to and from New Zealand, one of the most geographically isolated nations in the world. And with fewer than 50 jetliners in its domestic and international fleet as of May, Air New Zealand is a relatively small airline trying to capture travelers’ attention.

“We’re a small country,” Parton said, referring to New Zealand and its population of 4 million people. But the country and the airline strive to “make ourselves matter. Tourism is one of New Zealand’s largest export industries and Air New Zealand plays a significant role, carrying around one-third of all international arrivals to New Zealand. Our success and that of New Zealand are inextricably linked.”

The airline plans to use its first 787-9 between Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and the Western Australian city of Perth—more than 2,868 nautical miles (3,300 miles, or 5,310 kilometers). That will be followed by longer routes between Auckland and Shanghai and Auckland and Tokyo, according to the airline.

The 787-9 is

0 feet

or 6 meters, longer than 787-8
The 787-9 can accommodate

40 more

passengers than the 787-8,
depending on the cabin configuration
An increased range of

450 nm

(520 miles, or 830 kilometers),
compared with the 787-8
United’s first planned 787-9 route
the longest 787 route to date, is

6,790

nautical miles (7,927 miles; 12,757
kilometers), from Los Angeles to
Melborne, Australia

Japan’s ANA (All Nippon Airways) already is well acquainted with the Dreamliner, as the airline was the launch customer for the 787-8. With its higher passenger capacity, ANA, like other airlines flying the 787-9, will use the model mostly on international routes. While the airline hasn’t released specific information about where it will fly, it will open new markets for ANA, according to Ryosei Nomura, ANA’s public relations manager. “We plan to utilize the 787-9 to launch new destinations and increase the frequency of long- and midhaul international services,” he said.

PHOTO: ANA’s first 787-9 takes off
from Everett, Wash., on its inaugural flight. TIM STAKE/Boeing

PHOTO: An artist’s concept of the
787-9 in Virgin Atlantic Airways livery. BOEING

Virgin Atlantic Airways, which has 16 787-9s on order and options for more, touts the environmental advantages of the new model compared with other airplane types of similar size. Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said the stretched 787-9 will reduce fuel costs by 27 percent on the routes where it replaces the airline’s four-engine A340-300s. At this point, Virgin Atlantic plans to use the 787-9 on many of the airline’s existing routes from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to the U.S., Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It also gives the airline the potential to start routes to new markets on several continents, according to the airline.

“A key factor for us is the reduction in operating costs, such as fuel and maintenance costs,” Kreeger said. It also will deliver improved aircraft availability because of better technical dispatch reliability and reduced maintenance, he said.

Helping with the maintenance factor is the Dreamliner’s Airplane Health Management, a standard feature on the airplane that alerts airline personnel about potential maintenance issues in real time.

Virgin Atlantic officials also note that the 787’s noise

footprint on both takeoff and landing is “significantly better” than airplanes of similar size, making a noticeable difference in communities around airports. Additionally, the Dreamliners will help Virgin Atlantic reach its goal of reducing the airline’s carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2020, Kreeger said.

“We want to continue to be an industry-leading airline on sustainability, and the 787 will help us to deliver that,” Kreeger said.

Virgin Atlantic Airways, which has 16 787-9s on order and options for more, touts the environmental advantages of the new model compared with other airplane types of similar size. Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said the stretched 787-9 will reduce fuel costs by 27 percent on the routes where it replaces the airline’s four-engine A340-300s. At this point, Virgin Atlantic plans to use the 787-9 on many of the airline’s existing routes from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to the U.S., Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It also gives the airline the potential to start routes to new markets on several continents, according to the airline.

“It was a milestone moment for both Air New Zealand and Boeing to see the aircraft emblazoned with the koru and New Zealand fern, and we are certainly looking forward to seeing it touch down in New Zealand as well as at other ports throughout Asia and the Pacific,” Parton said.

At ANA, taking delivery of the new Dreamliner model will help the airline continue to grow. It has 30 787-9s on order at a time when Japan’s airlines are expanding ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“The 787-9 will enable us to modernize and expand our fleet further as we seek to become one of the world’s leading airline groups,” Nomura said. “The aircraft will give us maximum flexibility and will allow us to meet the growth in demand.”

Like ANA, United is familiar with the Dreamliner, having flown the 787-8 since 2012. Baur said the model continues to exceed the airline’s expectations. “It not only delivers on the efficiency promised, but it is by far the most popular aircraft in our fleet for both customers and employees,” he said. “The 787 has the highest customer satisfaction scores of any aircraft in our fleet, and we get dozens of letters from customers who loved flying the 787.”

Just as the 787-8 has attracted fans worldwide who prefer flying on it compared with other twin-aisle airplanes, Kreeger said the 787-9 will help differentiate Virgin Atlantic from its competitors flying from the U.K., as it will be the first in Europe to fly the new model.

“We believe that our passengers will really enjoy this improved passenger experience,” he said, “and it will leave them wanting to come back and fly on it again and again.”

PHOTO: The first Boeing 787-9 for
United Airlines rolls out of the Everett,
Wash., factory. PAUL GORDON/BOEING

787-9 Dreamliner
First Delivery June 30, 2014