On Monday 30th April I was invited to attend the re-opening ceremony of British Airways' hangar at London Heathrow which has been modified to accept the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 aircraft which will join the fleet in 2013.
This even coincided with the 787 Dreamliner World Tour visiting the UK, and upon arrival at the hangar the aircraft - N787BX - was inside looking very shiny indeed.
Alongside was the newly painted British Airways A319 G-EUOH
, which has the 'Dove' scheme for the London Olympics, of which the airline is a partner sponsor.
After welcome refreshments and a chance to mingle with the assembled staff, loyalty customers, writers and photographers, we were called to gather in front of a small stage where Garry Copeland, Director of Engineering, said a few words about the significance of the work that has been done.
This hangar is Grade II
listed, due to the architecture in the arch which dates from the BOAC days. As such, modifying it to accept an aircraft as large as the A380 whilst staying within regulations, was no mean (or cheap) feat. Even the 787 brings its own difficulties, with extra power and maintenance requirements.
The hangar has had an area of offices replaced with rigs that can extend partially alongside aircraft. It has also had a slot cut above the doors to accept the A380's tail.
For most, the day was a chance to get up close to the 787. Everyone was given a 'slot' to take a tour of the inside of the aircraft. Mine was at 10.20am, and I dutifully ascended the steps on time along with others in my group.
Upon entering, the space is immediately apparent. Boeing has created this 'cathedral effect' lobby, with arching ceiling and impressive lighting panels. Sadly most carriers will need to fill this space with seats, but it's nice to see what could be done.
Our guide explained the unique makeup and features of the Dreamliner. He showed us the area set aside for First Class, and demonstrated the overhead lockers which have a lot of extra space compared to other aircraft. To prove the point, he had four mini-suitcases placed side by side in one.
Next, we were welcomed into the cockpit by one of the pilots on the tour. I had the chance to sit in the Captain's seat and play with the touch screens. The whole cockpit is designed around easing the workload of the flight crew, and reducing the amount of paperwork they need to carry around. It also features Head Up Displays to aid in poor visibility. Remarkably, despite the many changes, the conversion for 777 pilots can be done in only 5 days.
Towards the rear of the aircraft, Economy seating was still a cut above anything you'd seen on another airliner, and had IFE screens that rival my TV
at home! All the while, above our heads the mood lighting of the aircraft was changing from oranges to blues, simulating the changes of day outside which can help with acclimatising after long flights.
As has been widely reported, the 787 does not even have the option of window shades. Instead, a button beneath each window can lighten or darken the glass as the passenger likes. We saw this demonstrated - it was impressive, but slower to react than I'd expected.
The toilets have been placed so that wheelchair users can pull up to the doorway, and inside have more space than usual.
We also got chance to climb the steep staircase into the rear cabin rest area situated in the ceiling. Up there, six beds can be used, each with their own mood lighting and privacy curtains.
Descending the rear stairs back to the hangar floor, we were given commemorative badges and stickers. A fantastic experience, and all I can say is I can't wait to fly the 787 as soon as possible!
Since it was a sunny day, and I had time to spare, I next spent a little while around the perimeter of Heathrow watching the comings and goings. The 787 left the next day to visit Oslo.
My thanks to British Airways