innovation: A Rose By Any Other Name?

Names can be powerful. They can evoke an emotion, an ideal, even memories.

In business, the right name can convey character, bestow distinction, and make an impression that lasts. Names can send out vibes that subtly shape perception.

What this has to do with the technology shaping air travel is this: Like many of you, I enjoy getting to the airport about as much as getting a root canal. There is one glimmer on the horizon that may change this nightmare into a dream for both you and me.

That glimmer goes by a dream-name — "Dreamliner."

Dreamliner? It kind of reminds you of that old jelly jar tagline: "With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good."

For me, no rose would smell as sweet as Dreamliner. It's a name that captures a vision of transportation at once as cushy and comfortable and carefree as I'm told train travelers experienced in railroading's golden age. Air travel supposedly had its good old days too, back when passengers conversed over gourmet meals and everyone dressed to the nines.

While nobody expects those days of yesteryear to return, Boeing's talented Dreamliner dream team of engineers has almost convinced me that such time travel is possible.

Wonderful technological innovations, including the extensive use of composite materials, means the 787 could make stopovers a real relic. Sure, that seems like a stretch given the chaotic state of airline travel. But it really isn't. With its twin-aisle configuration accommodating 250-330 passengers, the Dreamliner can fly 3,100-8,800 nautical miles without refueling. Translated, that means Denver to Shanghai without connections.

Features that will make such a long nonstop flight appealing include a more spacious interior, higher cabin humidity, and cabin compression that mimics elevation 6,000 rather than the current 8,000-foot-level, which requires uncomfortably higher air pressure inside the plane. Gadget gurus will love the 787's expansive entertainment suite, while the rest of us will appreciate overhead storage that's 30 percent roomier than any comparable jet, spectacular windows (19 inches tall) , and electronic shades.

To say the new Dreamliner is popular with the airlines is a gross understatement. Globally, 37 carriers have placed 468 orders since the 787 was announced in April 2004. What's attracting carriers to the 787 is not just amenities, but economics.

The carbon-fiber fuselage and wings make the 787 less prone to fatigue and corrosion than any other commercial aircraft, thus cutting maintenance costs by a third. Add in the advances in engine efficiency, aerodynamics, airframe materials, and other major systems improvements, and the airlines are getting one huge bang for their buck.

So when will you be able to experience this dream plane for yourself?

The first test flight is scheduled for August 2007, then, if all goes well, ANA (All Nippon Airways) will take delivery of the first Dreamliner in May 2008. Here in the good old USA, both Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines have confirmed orders for the 787, with Northwest to take delivery next fall, then Continental in 2009.

If you're as anxious as I am to taste the Boeing buzz, you'll just have to cool your jets.

Airline Futurist • Miami • rbuckman@amadeus.com • www.amadeus.com

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