Record Breaker

A 777-200LR set a new distance record last month with a 23 hour-long flight. Mike Bayman was one of the 35 passengers onboard the aeroplane.

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By  Mike Bayman Published  December 1, 2005

|~|777tail_m.jpg|~||~|Boeing proved that its 777-200LR, the Worldliner, lives up to its nickname last month, when the aircraft smashed the world record for the longest flight by a commercial aircraft. With 35 people onboard, Flight Boeing 002 flew from Hong Kong to London in an easterly direction. This meant that the aircraft flew over the Pacific and the USA rather than flying the usual path, the great circle west over Russia. When the aeroplane landed 22 hours 42 minutes after takeoff, to a salute of water jets from the Heathrow Airport fire service, a new milestone in aviation had been achieved. The previous commercial aircraft distance record was held by a Boeing 747-400, which flew 17,039 km from London to Sydney in 1989. However, the twin-engined Worldliner smashed this record with its easterly Hong Kong-London trip. The plane actually flew 19,590 km in total during its 23 hour-long flight, but, unfortunately for Boeing, the record books will record a slightly lower figure. Achieving this distance required a combination of weight-savings and fuel efficiency on the aircraft. This was helped by the fact that the aircraft was in a ‘sales configuration.’ When the aircraft is handed over to Pakistan International Airlines in March, it will have 301 seats onboard. However, for the record flight and sales campaign, the interior of the plane had just two areas of business class seating. The rest of the interior is largely empty, which saved weight and also gave passengers plenty of room for stretching their legs. Boeing also closely monitored the load onboard the aircraft by weighing everything, including the passengers and their baggage, before the plane took off in Hong Kong. The total weight of the plane when the engines started was 711,000 lbs. Around 360,700 lbs of this weight was fuel though, as the aircraft was fitted with three optional extra fuel tanks, all of which was filled to the brim. “At takeoff, the weight of fuel exceeded the weight of the aircraft and its passengers,” said Lars Andersen, vice president and programme manager for the 777 line, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Fuel efficiency was also helped by the fact that the aircraft flew an easterly route, which meant that it could take maximum advantage of tailwinds. These were expected to gust at an average speed of 100 km/h. The three required designated waypoints between Hong Kong and London Heathrow were also chosen just two hours before the flight, so that the plane could use the latest known positions of the jetstream. Even the taxiing distance before takeoff at Hong Kong airport was minimised to cut fuel usage. The aircraft was parked just a short distance from the start of the runway, which meant that just 700 lbs of fuel was burnt before takeoff, less than half the normal allowance of 2000 lbs. Such shortcuts are unlikely during scheduled commercial services, as indeed are 23 hour-long flights. Even a direct service from London to Sydney would only take 18 hours, while Dubai-New York is closer to 14 hours. However, the record flight was not about proving the economics of such a service, but rather highlighting Boeing’s ultra-long capabilities. The US manufacturer was a little late into the ultra-long haul range — the rival A340-500 has been flying commercially for 18 months — and Boeing clearly wanted to announce its arrival in this space with a bang.||**|||~||~||~|Customers are also beginning to hear Boeing’s message with a number of airlines now having ordered or announced commitments for the 777-200LR, including Air India, Jet Airways, EVA Air, Qatar Airways and, most recently, Emirates. Boeing expects to add more customers in the future, given the advantages of the plane over the A340-500. As was stated during an onboard presentation during the record flight, the Worldliner has 24% less fuel burn than the -500 and it can carry 21 more passengers on a journey of 17,445 km. “You could fly Dubai to Los Angeles in the A340-500, but it would be pushing it,” said Randy Tinseth, director, product & services marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The -200LR makes the route comfortably and more economically.” Even the world’s longest city-pair, London-Sydney, could be flown non-stop with the –200LR. Carriers would have to have a minimal passenger load to make this possible, but it could be financially viable as a premium product. “Airlines today are looking at a configuration of extra fuel and only first and business class seats that would connect those two cities,” said Andersen. As an alternative, an airline could also remove the three extra fuel tanks from the aircraft and use the space for freight instead. The separate tanks, which are located in the cargo area, can be removed in less than 24 hours of ground time, which gives carriers the choice of extra range or extra freight. “You could fly the plane on shorter routes, such as Dubai to New York, and take advantage of the aeroplane’s efficiency by carrying more cargo,” said Tinseth. The advantage of carrying more freight would be more revenue and fewer complaints, as cargo would not mind spending hours on end in an aircraft. Passengers, on the other hand, need both entertainment and exercise during a flight to keep them happy and healthy. On the record flight, Boeing encouraged passengers to move about, even laying on an exercise session at one point. Commercial aircraft would probably not have the room for that, but airlines are aware of the need to keep passengers active and comfortable on ultra-long-haul flights. Emirates, for instance, has only 258 seats in three classes on its A340-500s, against Airbus’s standard configuration of 313, in order to give passengers more legroom and wider seating. Singapore Airlines goes even further with its –500s, offering just 181 seats in a two-class set-up. SIA also has stand-up social areas with self-service snacks in order to encourage passengers to get out of their seats. Boeing advocates similar tactics. “Airlines have to be able to provide passengers with inflight destinations so that they can stretch their legs,” commented Tinseth. “You [the passenger] also have to keep hydrated, so the airlines provide lots of water. That, in turn, stimulates you to go to the bathroom so that you again get up and stretch your legs,” he continued. For pilots, the Worldliner has an upstairs compartment behind the cockpit, which has two lieflat beds and seating. This area is necessary on ultra-long-range flights as the crew will be facing shifts of at least 17 hours. Industry best practice, which is already followed by SIA and Emirates on their A350s, says that flightcrew should have either one or two substantial rest breaks on ultra-long range sectors, including one allowing for a sleep of about four hours However, while health factors are, of course, vital, boredom is a much more common complaint among long-haul passengers. Again, the Boeing record flight gave examples of what could be done. The plane had an extensive inflight entertainment system offering a wide selection of movies, CDs and games, which all helped passengers to pass the time. These are obviously standard features now for most long-haul aircraft, but the record flight also offered a taste of the future. The Worldliner was kitted out with AeroMobile’s telephony system, which meant that passengers were able to use mobile phones inflight. Internet access was not available during the record flight, but this will also be a feature for the Worldliner when it enters commercial service. “Inflight entertainment systems are important to ensure that people are entertained during the time [in the air],” said Tinseth. “They need power — so that they can power their personal DVD players, their iPods and their computers — and it is important that there is connectivity,” he added. “When you are flying on these long flights it is important that you have the ability to work on your computer, access the internet and stay current on what is going on in the outside,” he continued. “All of these things help enable a nice balance between a pleasurable flight, when people arrive refreshed, and great economics from an airplane point of view.”||**||

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