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Dreamliner set to land at American Airlines



By DAVID KOENIG

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Rumbling down the runway at New York's JFK airport, American Airlines pilot Bill Elder points the nose of the Boeing 787 skyward and takes off for Denver.

Elder roars over the Atlantic, then banks sharply to the left, back over Queens and then Manhattan. But he is flying too low and triggers a ground-proximity warning as the Empire State Building appears off to the left.

Not to worry. The scene is unfolding in a flight simulator at American's training center in Texas. Elder, American's fleet training manager, is demonstrating the warning systems that mimic those in an airliner.

American will take delivery of its first 787, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner, in November. Passenger flights begin flights early next year. In the next few months, dozens of American pilots will sit in the same simulator and learn the nuances of the controls before they can fly the real plane.

The 787 could be American's most important new plane since the Boeing 777 in 1999. With its improved fuel efficiency and long range, the 787 could boost the airline's profit by making many international routes more economical.

The plane has a turbulent record. Production was delayed two years, and the entire worldwide fleet of 50 was grounded last year after batteries overheated in two planes. Regulators allowed the jets to fly again after Boeing crafted a fix that included encasing the batteries in steel boxes to contain any fires.

The Dreamliner was the first big passenger jet to use lithium-ion batteries to power key systems. Last week, U.S. safety officials said that the Federal Aviation Administration relied too much on Boeing for technical expertise and might not have adequately tested the batteries for hazards due to short-circuiting. Experts believe that lithium-ion batteries can short-circuit without warning, the investigators said.

American Airlines Group Inc. declined to make an executive available for comment. In a statement to The Associated Press, the airline said it was "in constant dialogue with Boeing and we look forward to adding the 787 to our fleet." American's former CEO and current chairman, Tom Horton, similarly stood by Boeing last year.

American will become just the second U.S. airline, after United, to fly the 787. Worldwide, about 140 are flying today, and Boeing says it has orders for nearly 900 more.

American has ordered 42 Dreamliners but hasn't yet said which routes they will fly. Spokesman Casey Norton said the plane will be tested on domestic routes before going into international service - the same strategy used by United Airlines.

Richard Aboulafia, a prominent aviation consultant, said the Dreamliner will be crucial for American as it competes with United and Delta to attract premium passengers on international routes. He suggests that American will fly it to Asia, the Middle East and secondary cities in Europe.

"It is absolutely the plane you want to fly point-to-point internationally," he said, "and it's at its best at longer ranges" where the fuel efficiency pays off most.

United executives say the plane burns 20 percent less fuel than similar jets and scores highest in the airline's surveys of passengers. United plans to use the 787 on new flights this year between San Francisco and Chengdu, a Chinese city that has never had nonstop service from the U.S., and between Los Angeles and Melbourne.

The 787 "has allowed us to add more spokes to our network and do it economically," said United's vice president of network operations, Brian Znotins. The airline has 65 more on order, including new larger versions.

American won't say how much it will pay for the planes. The base model lists for $211.8 million on Boeing's website, but airlines routinely get deep discounts.

Even the simulator wasn't cheap. American wouldn't comment, but a spokeswoman for the manufacturer, Canada's CAE, said that a 787 simulator would be at the "upper end" of a range between $11 million and $20 million.

Depending on their experience, American pilots will spend anywhere from 10 days to nearly a month in the simulator before graduating to practice flights with the real plane. Then come passenger trips, when they will be accompanied by an instructor called a check airman.

Jim Dees, American's training program chief for the 787 - he and Elder are the only American pilots who have flown a Dreamliner - said the simulator allows pilots to practice during emergencies and bad weather that wouldn't be safe in a real plane. They can pick from nearly two dozen airports for takeoffs and landings, including over-water approaches at San Francisco or mountainous terrain around Salt Lake City.

Letting a reporter take the first officer's seat, the pilots had him pull the nose up, push it down and roll from side to show how the 20,000-pound device with six gigantic legs simulates the rocking of a plane in flight. They even let him "land" in Denver.

"The feel on the controls," Elder said, "is just as if you were on an airplane."

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backdoc301 May 27 2014 at 6:56 PM

Great-so the first class seats are awesome while everyone else is packed in like sardines anyway....stuff it!

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9 replies
J L Stelling May 27 2014 at 8:31 PM

I just want the pretty stewardes' in their young 20's back. Short skirts etc.

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3 replies
joetdraw May 27 2014 at 9:22 PM

the cabins in these new aircraft leave me chilly .. everything white and gray or white and blue - bulkhead walls are blank - interiors in the past were colorful and expressed the personality of each individual airline - cozy and color it up !

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2 replies
Mitchell Forman joetdraw May 27 2014 at 10:14 PM

Airlines should hire the Property Brothers of HGTV to give these aircraft some zippy new interior designs!!!

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bobsomm joetdraw May 28 2014 at 8:22 AM

For the most part, the buyers still select the paint jobs and interior colors, seat sizes and types and color schemes. Your points are misdirected

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crazy ray May 27 2014 at 7:37 PM

Absurd that only two pictures out of this set give a passenger any idea what a flight might be like. And both were in upper class. What's it like back in steerage? I guess it doesn't matter much anymore to me as I have a clear rule to NEVER fly coach under ANY circumstances.

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6 replies
vjcinpalmbeach May 27 2014 at 8:16 PM

"If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort, provided you don't travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly."

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Husband of Queen Elizabeth to the Aircraft Research Association, 2002

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5 replies
mlafazia123 May 27 2014 at 7:16 PM

Is it faster? Would there be nonstop flights from east coast to west coast more readily available?

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3 replies
heh1111 May 27 2014 at 10:07 PM

good to know boeing is going to make millions, less than six months ago they threated the employees of one of their engineering unions with moving the plant in washington state to another state if they didn't vote yes on the crappy contract offer. they did the same thing to employees in south carolina

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5 replies
Jay May 28 2014 at 7:06 AM

Since when does a 787 qualify as a "jumbo" jet? There was a time when that was reserved for a 747 or bigger. But no not now because a 2 seater cessna can get the "jumbo" designation.

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halt1025 May 28 2014 at 8:58 AM

obomacare

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CAROL May 28 2014 at 9:42 AM

Yeah, but what have they done for the seats the poor souls in economy have to be crammed into?

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