Vistara has finally received its first Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which also becomes the first Indian full-service airline outside of Air India to get the cutting edge aircraft. The airline organized an inauguration ceremony on March 2, and we had an exclusive look at it.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a long-haul medium-sized wide-body aircraft. In simpler terms, it can fly long-distance routes like New Delhi – New York with 250 to 300 passengers, depending on the seating configuration of the airline. It’s smaller than the Boeing 777, but a commercial success around the globe because it isn’t too huge. Airlines can be flexible with routes and quickly deploy it based on demand.
The Boeing 787 is split into three variants — 787-8, 787-9, and 787-10. The 8 is developed as the base model, with the 9 being a stretched version and the 10 being further stretched to house more passengers. However, due to its increased size, Boeing had to make some adjustments to the 9 and subsequently the 10. The 9 can carry more load because of a stronger airframe and the 10 needed a new landing gear to avoid a tailstrike.
In India, Air India was the first airline to take delivery of a 787-8. Today, the flag carrier has 27 Dreamliner’s in its fleet, flying to destinations like Newark, Melbourne, Milan, and a lot more. The plane is configured with 18 flat-bed business class seats and 238 economy seats, taking the total to 256.
Vistara has ordered 6 Boeing 787-9 and the first one, VT-TSD, has arrived in New Delhi. A second Dreamliner is expected to arrive by the end of March. Vistara is still evaluating international operations for the aircraft since the industry has taken a massive beating due to Coronavirus. Unlike Air India, Vistara has a three-class cabin consisting of 30 flat-bed business class seats, 21 premium economy seats, and 248 economy seats. This takes the total capacity to 299.
But, what makes the Boeing 787 Dreamliner different than other long-haul aircraft?
- It’s technically built of plastic: Planes are traditionally made from aluminium because it doesn’t corrode easily and has higher flexibility. The Dreamliner is made of 50% composite materials and carbon fibre-reinforced polymers that are both lighter and more durable than traditional aluminium. Composites have been used previously in aircraft designs, but not to this extent. This allows “a lighter, simpler structure, increases aeroplane efficiency, reduces fuel consumption and reduces weight-based maintenance and fees”.
- The wing flex: Composites are also more flexible and won’t snap easily. The plane proved in pre-launch structural tests that its composite wings could be bent higher than the top of the tailfin for 20 seconds. Hence, it’s normal to see the wings flex more than usual and even bend or flutter during turbulence.
- It’s eco-friendlier: The greatest feat of the new Dreamliner is its “unprecedented” fuel efficiency. The plane uses 20-25% less fuel per passenger compared to an aircraft of a similar size. It’s higher flying range has also opened up a plethora of point-to-point routes. Example: Amritsar – London Stansted.
- The cabin is comfier: The cabin pressure on the 787 is higher along with the humidity than other aeroplanes. The lower cabin altitude of 6,000ft, compared with the more traditional 8,000ft, is more ergonomic for long-haul travel. You’ll feel as if you’re on the ground and many people have reported better taste and smell reception in the cabin. Indirectly, making in-flight food also tastier.
- Cleaner cabin air: Its high-tech air purification system removes contaminants and odours that can cause throat irritation, while the cabin’s HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters remove bacteria and viruses. An additional gaseous filtration system unique to the 787 is said to eliminate irritants that produce a drying effect.
Coronavirus update: HEPA filters are standard on pretty much all modern aircraft. This includes planes from Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, as well as Bombardier. The tray tables, lavatory doors, and latches on overhead bins are loaded with viruses and bacteria. Hence, it’s recommended to wash hands frequently and rely on an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- No pull-down window shades: Instead, the plane has electrochromic windows. Boeing chose to replace the traditional pull-down plastic shades because they are notoriously prone to sticking and are a maintenance headache. Hence they’ve developed a variably dimmable cabin window that lets the passenger select up to five different levels from dark to clear. Just press a button and the blue sky will start turning bluer.
- Significantly bigger windows: The Dreamliner has windows that are 19 inches tall and 30% bigger than the one on similarly-sized aircraft. The composite body plays a critical role in enabling these new features since its considerably stronger than conventional metals.
- A quieter ride: The Dreamliner is calmer and on par with its rival, the Airbus A350. If you forget your noise-cancelling headphones, it’s alright. I’ve flown on the Boeing 787-8 and it also feels like vibrations are lesser and the engine noise is extremely refined.
- No bleed air: Most conventional aircraft use bleed air to pressurize the cabin. As part of the engine operation, some air is ‘bled’ out of the high-pressure compression stage of the engine and then into the air conditioning system. This air is then used to pressurize the aircraft and keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature. On the Dreamliner, instead of taking air from the engines, fresh air is drawn directly from outside the aircraft by two dedicated inlets. From here, the air is fed to four electrically powered Cabin Air Compressors (CACs).
- Let’s look at the numbers: The Dreamliner reduces fuel burn by 20% and operation cost by 10%. Of the 20% improvement in fuel burn, Boeing estimates 8% is engine-driven, 3% from the systems, 3% from the majority composite airframe, 3% from aerodynamics, and a further 3% from the integration of all the technologies.
The Boeing 787 is operated by a wide range of airlines around the world. The plane serves ultra-premium carriers like Singapore Airlines, low-cost carriers like Scoot, and even flag carriers like American Airlines and Air India. It has served across a wide range of business models, seating configurations, and product offerings. How will the Vistara experience be any different?
They’ve ticked all the basics perfectly like top-notch economy seats, a convenient 2-3-2 seat map in premium economy, flat-bed business class, in-flight internet connectivity, and robust codeshare agreements. It has an edge over Air India’s product offering and their operations so far have proven customer satisfaction.
To make this work, they’ll need spectacular route planning, top-tier destinations like London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and more. Vistara has entered the big leagues and will be going up against uber-rich Gulf carriers like Qatar Airways and Emirates while battling low-cost carriers like IndiGo and Spicejet in the domestic market.
The most important question, when will it start flying? Vistara hasn’t confirmed a date yet but did say they won’t be starting international operations with the Dreamliner immediately. We expect the plane to service prime domestic routes like Mumbai – Delhi soon.