The ‘Dreamliner’ no longer pulls out of its hangar in Delhi at 4 a.m. to be loaded with sumptuous south Indian breakfast for its daily run to Chennai. For more than a week now, Air India’s Boeing 787 aircraft have remained parked in hangars around the country after American watchdog Federal Aviation Administration raised safety concerns. The fleet of six 787s was grounded just under four months after the aircraft’s inaugural flight between the Capital and Chennai.
However, it is not just the Indian airline but also two Japanese carriers — ANA and Japan Airlines — and the Ethiopian, Lan Chile and United that have grounded their fleets due to safety concerns.
But that’s small consolation for the legions of 787 aficionados in India, who felt cheated when the aircraft that was inducted after a delay of three years did not stay in air beyond just four months.
There was anyway only a small window of opportunity for domestic flyers to experience the 787 as Air India’s long-term plan is to deploy them on long-haul international flights.
The airline is likely to get 27 planes until 2016. At the time of grounding, it was already flying them to Frankfurt, Paris and Dubai from Delhi. Internationally, too, the 787 is deployed mainly for long-haul flights.
Air India’s decision to induct the 787 was preceded by great hype as it was the first airline in India to go in for this newest generation of civilian aircraft. Jet Airways too has ordered the 787s, but its deliveries will take longer.
The national carrier had taken out full-page advertisements, offered special inaugural fares, and even had its pilots emerge from the cockpit to explain to flyers the advantages of the aircraft. Those who experienced the flight readily testified that it had the potential to transform the image of the State-owned airline reviled for its ageing, decrepit fleet.
Besides Delhi-Chennai, the Dreamliner was flying daily between Delhi and Kolkata, apart from two runs to Bangalore.
Many in India saw the 787 as US-based Boeing’s answer to European manufacturer Airbus Industrie’s A380, the world’s largest civilian aircraft. The country has not permitted international airlines to fly the A380 into any Indian airport, denying flyers the experience of this double-decker, which can seat over 500 on a single flight.
The Boeing 787 did not lag far either, when it came to on-board offerings. Business class flyers on the early morning run between Delhi and Chennai could catch up on sleep comfortably on a seat that converts into a full flat bed — a first for domestic flights in India.
But the pampering is not restricted to the 18 flyers in business class. For those in economy, too, it meant arriving fresher at their destination thanks to the newest technology the aircraft uses. The cabin pressure is equivalent to air pressure at 6,000 ft, as compared to 8,000 ft in other aircraft. This means less likelihood of headaches or fatigue resulting from long-haul flights.
The other attractions are the large windows with the option of electronically dimming the brightness from sunshine to darkness in about 60 seconds.
The Dreamliner is also environment-friendly — 15 per cent less fuel consumption than other similar-sized aircraft and 20 per cent less emission. It has a high-efficiency particulate air filter that not only removes bacteria and viruses but also recycles air every 30 minutes, leaving the cabin air cleaner than in most other commercial aircraft. The presence of a system that senses turbulence and commands the wing control surface to counter it ensures a smooth flight.