Boeing sees the light -- and so will 7E7 passengers
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER - November 18, 2003
Enjoy looking out the window of your jetliner instead of watching the in-flight movie?
Or perhaps you want to enjoy the movie and don't want all that daylight pouring through the window of the passenger seated next to you, or across the plane from you?
This is just one air-travel issue that The Boeing Co. plans to solve on its proposed 7E7 jetliner, which is scheduled to enter service 2008.
The transparency of the windows will be controlled electronically, by flight attendants and passengers. There will be no pesky pull-down mechanical shades. Passengers will still be able to see even out of a darkened window and not disturb others.
"The technology exists to generate just how transparent the windows are, from fully transparent to fully opaque," Klaus Brauer, Boeing's airplane interior specialist, told reporters yesterday during a tour of a mock-up of the 7E7 interior.
The adjustable windows -- far bigger than on other planes -- is but one innovation Boeing plans for its 7E7.
The ceiling will use a combination of screens and lighting to create a skylike effect. Rather than fluorescent lighting, the 7E7 cabin will be illuminated by arrays of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The color and brightness can be easily changed during flight. A night sky can be simulated, for example, to make it more comfortable for sleeping passengers.
Overhead baggage bins will be bigger than ever before and cabin aisles wider.
The 7E7 interior builds on concepts started for Boeing's sonic cruiser. That program was shelved late last year when airlines told Boeing they wanted a new plane that would be much more efficient to operate.
The 7E7 will be about the size of Boeing's 767 and seat from 200 to about 250 passengers in three classes.
The interior mock-up was completed several weeks ago, but Boeing had limited visits to potential airline customers. Brauer and his team spent about 18 months working on the 10-meter-long mock-up.
Airline representatives who have seen the mock-up have been impressed.
"You get a bit of the 'wow' factor when you walk through the door," Peter Gardner, the U.S. technical vice president for Cathay Pacific Airways, said last week after touring the mock-up.
Brauer and his team worked with psychologists to better understand the experience of jetliner travel.
Two ideas driving the 7E7 interior came out of that research. One was to create the feeling of being on a plane. The other was to create a sense of being welcomed when passengers walk on the 7E7 from a jet way.
"This is an airplane and we want to connect people to the sky," he said.
When passengers enter the 7E7, an open entry way and sweeping arches direct their eyes upward to a simulated sky. By using a combination of blue and white reflected light behind a specially treated screen, it is difficult for passengers to tell how high the ceiling actually is.
"We have done this in a way to make it difficult for the eye to judge distance," Brauer said.
The larger windows bring more light into the cabin.
On the 7E7, those windows will be 11 inches wide and 19 inches tall. That's roughly 46 percent taller than the windows on the 777, Boeing's last all-new airplane.
The 7E7 window likely will be coated with an electrochromic film to allow the transparency to be adjusted.
By making the window taller, Brauer said, passengers are better able to see the horizon. Boeing's studies found that passengers want not only bigger windows, but they want to see the horizon -- where the earth and sky meet.
The top of the 7E7 window is at eye level of seated passengers. The top of the window is also above the top of seats, which means passengers in the plane's interior can more easily see out.
The challenge on the 7E7, as on any jetliner, is to make the best use of space while not wasting space needed for seats to carry revenue-paying passengers.
Brauer said he conducted his own study that compared space in a jetliner to real estate in Seattle.
Each square foot of space on a jetliner is about 1,000 times more valuable than the same amount of the most expensive commercial real estate in Seattle, he said.
"It's precious stuff," he said of jetliner space.
On the 7E7, he said, the space Boeing has to work with most is the ceiling.
Boeing will also make better use of space with larger overhead bins. In business class, these super-size bins eliminate the need for overhead bins in the middle of the cabin, allowing passenger to see more "sky."
The cabin of the 7E7 will be wider than its main competitor, the Airbus A330-200.
This will allow eight abreast seating in economy class but with the same seat width as that of the popular 777, Brauer said.
For the 7E7 mock-up, the seats in economy are 18.5 inches wide and the aisles are 21.5 inches wide. The aisles of the 777 are typically 19.24 inches wide. Airlines, not Boeing, decide the interior configuration. An airline could choose a configuration where the 7E7 aisles are more narrow but the seats are wider.
The mock-up uses a different seating configuration in economy class than is popular with many airlines today on their widebody planes such as the A330 or 767. Rather than having two seats next to the window and four in the middle, Boeing's 7E7 mock-up has three seats by the windows and two in the middle.
Brauer noted that for airline passengers, the experience of getting from their home to the plane "is less than ideal." There are freeways, parking garages, security, baggage checks and long lines before they finally walk on the jet.
When they do, they should be welcomed to the experience of flying, he said.
"We feel a strong obligation to help our customers (passengers) take control of that experience," he said, speaking of the 7E7 interior that will await them.
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