Passenger comfort drives Boeing 777X interior

EVERETT — Passenger experience is driving the Boeing Co.’s plans for the interior of the new twin-aisle 777X airliner.

The company Tuesday committed to replicating some of the comforts of the 787, the cabin of which has impressed travelers with higher humidity, greater air pressure and larger windows than most other jetliners.

Boeing officials made the announcement at the Farnborough International Airshow, a global aerospace trade show this week in the United Kingdom.

The airplane maker promised that the 777X will:

Have a “cabin altitude” of 6,000 feet, which is lower than that of most airplanes — a good thing. As in the 787, the air pressure in the cabin will be roughly equivalent to outdoor atmospheric pressure at 6,000 feet above sea level. Most jetliners have a cabin pressure equivalent to about 8,000 feet.

Windows that are 15 percent larger than competitors’ and closer to eye level for many passengers.

More ambient light from the windows.

All-new interior design and cabin architecture that airlines can customize by ticket class.

Higher cabin humidity and better air filtering.

And a quieter ride due to less engine noise.

The 787’s composite-material fuselage enabled Boeing to introduce those kinds of improvements, including even bigger windows. The 777X has a more traditional aluminum fuselage.

The 777X cabin’s features appear to be largely incremental improvements, said Magdy Attia, an aerospace engineer with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. “All in all, better passenger experience, but hardly radical.”

More innovations could come as design continues, according to a company news release.

“The 777X will redefine the total passenger experience. All of the interior features we are exploring and designing into the new airplane are working together as a package to create an exciting new passenger experience,” said Dennis Eng, director of 777X interiors at Boeing.

Airlines care about passenger experience as part of their marketing, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Find me a passenger who picks his equipment. I don’t,” he said. “Most passengers will continue to pick on price, price, price. And maybe convenience, a little.”

Boeing sold more 777 classics at the air show on Tuesday. At the current production rate, Boeing only has enough 777 classic orders to keep the line busy to 2017, three years before the company plans to deliver the first 777X.

New robotic assembly

Unlike its predecessor, the 777X fuselage will be put together standing on end, in a process called Fuselage Automated Upright Build — or FAUB.

The process will use robots to fasten fuselage panels and drill and place about 60,000 fasteners that are currently done by hand, according to a news release from the Chicago-based company.

The robotic system was designed by a German company, KUKA Systems.

FAUB is expected to cut production time by eliminating the need for a giant lathe-like structure used on the 777 classic line to rotate each fuselage section halfway through assembly.

It is being tested in Anacortes and will be installed at Everett and brought online in the next few years.

“The testing is driving the timeline,” said Elizabeth Fischtziur, a spokeswoman for the 777X program.

The building that will house the system also has to be completed, so “we’re a ways off,” she said.

Automation doesn’t necessarily mean layoffs for workers at Boeing’s Everett plant. When asked in recent months, Boeing officials have indicated that workers could be moved to other programs if fewer people are needed on the 777X line. And in planning documents filed with the city of Everett for construction related to the 777X program, the company said that it doesn’t expect overall employment at the site to change, despite moving 2,500 to 3,000 office workers to other locations to make way for a growing industrial footprint.

Given the company’s huge backlog and high production rates, Boeing will need its skilled workers, Fischtziur said. “Some employees will work with FAUB. Others will move to other positions on the 777 programs or to other programs where there is demand for their skill set.”

Ex-Im Bank concerns

Gov. Jay Inslee stumped for the U.S. Export-Import Bank before leaving Farnborough on Tuesday. The Ex-Im Bank provides financing to help U.S. companies — Boeing in particular — sell goods and services abroad.

Fiscal conservatives in Congress want to kill the Ex-Im Bank, which they see as distorting markets and subsidizing corporations. Delta Air Lines says the bank helps foreign competitors buy airplanes under unfairly favorable terms.

Boeing officials have said closing the bank could cost American manufacturing jobs.

“This is a meat-and-potato issue,” Inslee said in a phone interview. “We have tens of thousands of jobs that are dependent on this American institution.”

He joined Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and 31 other governors asking Congress to reauthorize the bank before its charter expires in September.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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