The first Boeing 787-9 for launch customer Air New Zealand took off on its 14-hour delivery flight from Everett near Seattle to Auckland on July 10.
A day earlier, I went onboard the aircraft – the first Boeing 787-9 delivered to any customer and also the first long-haul jet painted in Air New Zealand’s glossy black ‘All Black’ theme livery – to see for myself the innovative new cabin-interior features the airline had installed in its new showpiece.
Air New Zealand plans to begin scheduled commercial service with its first 787-9 between Auckland and Perth in Western Australia on 15 October. Scheduled 787-9 services to Narita International Airport near Tokyo and to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport begin in November and December respectively.
By 2016 the airline’s 787-9s will take over all the Pacific Rim routes its 767-300ERs now operate, including the carrier’s services to Papeete in French Polynesia and Hawaii’s state capital Honolulu, which will both see 787-9 service from 2015.
However, Rob McDonald, Air New Zealand’s chief financial officer, says that the extensive period of route-proving flying the carrier plans to perform before the official launch of the Perth service in October will probably mean that well before then the 787-9 will operate, at short notice and on a variety of routes, some commercial flights scheduled for 767-300ERs.
Although I boarded Air New Zealand’s new 787-9 through the left-side front door, as is common when boarding many airliners (single-aisle jets in particular), in commercial operation Air New Zealand plans to board all passengers from the 787-9’s second door, more than 30 feet farther down the fuselage.
While Boeing created a sculpted, highlighted ceiling in the 787-9’s entryway area immediately beyond this door, specifically to give passengers the feeling they are entering a futuristic aircraft and to hint at a unique experience beyond, Air New Zealand has chosen to position a full-service galley between the two aisles in the entryway area.
This decision effectively does away with any chance of passengers being able to feel they are making a dramatic entrance. However, Victoria Bamford, Air New Zealand’s cabin interiors manager, explains that the decisions to have passengers board from the second door and to locate a galley right where they enter provide two cabin-service benefits.
One is that all premium-class passengers – those traveling in Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy class as well as those traveling in its Business Premier long-haul business-class cabin – turn left once they board.
For passengers paying higher fares, this immediately creates a feeling of “their own contained experience”, according to Bamford. The first cabin forward of the main entryway is the 21-seat Premium Economy cabin, and forward of that – in the fuselage area nearest the front door of the aircraft – is the 18-seat Business Premier cabin.
So, when boarding through the second door, business-class passengers have to pass through Premium Economy to get to their seats – but the distance they must walk is a short one.
Bamford says the second cabin-service benefit is that having a full-service galley available between the Premium Economy cabin and the first of the 787-9’s two Economy cabins allows Air New Zealand to serve two full meals, as well as beverages, on the very long-haul flights its Boeing 787-9s will typically operate. (Most of Air New Zealand’s long-haul flights are of more than 12 hours’ duration, because of New Zealand’s geographical remoteness.)
Air New Zealand is outfitting each of its 10 Boeing 787-9s with 18 Business Premier flat-bed seats, 21 Premium Economy seats and 263 Economy class seats, for a total of 302 seats per aircraft. (This is only two fewer seats than in the carrier’s Boeing 777-200ER jets, though these aircraft have more premium-class seating installed.)
In the 787-9, the Economy seats include 14 three-seat rows which can convert into the very innovative ‘Skycouch’ lie-flat beds developed by and unique to Air New Zealand. (More on the Skycouch seats later.)
Probably the first thing you notice when you enter any Boeing 787 passenger cabin is its LED lighting. This can provide a palette of different colors and lighting effects meant to create a feeling of relaxation and also to simulate the progression of the day as the flight moves through different time zones.
(On the day I went onboard Air New Zealand’s first Boeing 787-9, the LED lighting was set to produce relaxing violet highlights on the cabin sidewalls in addition to the daylight brightness of the overhead cabin lights, which were fully turned up.)
Also immediately noticeable upon entering any 787 is the large size of each passenger window, which is up to 40 per cent bigger in area than those of earlier jets and makes it very easy for any passenger sitting in a forward-facing window seat to get a really good view outside.
This is possible because the 787’s fuselage is made of carbon-fiber composite material rather than aluminum alloy and can withstand greater pressure differences between the interior air and the outside air, as well as being lighter than most aluminum alloys.
Another benefit of the fuselage’s ability to withstand a higher air-pressure differential is that the effective altitude of the air inside the cabin at cruising altitude can be set lower than in previous commercial jets.