KLM’s 777 is packed with digital delights

You hear a lot lately about how airlines are cutting back to save money, and so it was interesting to walk around inside KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ first 777-200ER prior to the recent delivery ceremony.

That plane had just about every digital bell and technological whistle the Boeing Co. could pack on it, at least according to one spokesman for the manufacturer.

"This is our long-haul plane," chief operating officer Peter Hartman explained. "People should live in that airplane for 13 hours."

To keep passengers occupied on the trip, KLM added the top-of-the-line in-flight entertainment system offered by Bothell-based Matsushita Avionics Systems.

KLM’s new jets also are the first 777s outfitted with Matsushita Avionics Systems’ System 3000i seatback entertainment systems.

The 3000i, which debuted last year, offers each passenger 300-plus hours of digital audio and video on demand, plus access to single or multiplayer versions of Nintendo games. It does it with a system fast enough that an airline can load more than 300 hours of video and 36 gigabytes of Web content into an airplane sitting at the gate in less than an hour.

The technological improvements are even more extensive in the cockpit. KLM’s 777s are among the first to get new lighter-weight computers with avionics software upgrades.

The airline also opted for the electronic flight bag from Boeing’s Jeppesen subsidiary. KLM is the launch customer for the devices, which received approval for use from the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday.

KLM thinks using the flight bags will save it money, said Edwin Kleiboer, who was the airline’s manager for installing them. "Yields are low, so we have to do something about cost."

For starters, "we’re going to save weight," he said. Rather than hauling heavy handbooks around in the sky, KLM pilots will be able to get all the information digitally through a tablet-sized computer mounted in the cockpit.

That also means KLM officials on the ground will be freed from having to print and maintain current versions of the books, Kleiboer said. "The whole process for updating the daily manual is simplified."

And the system helps pilots to better calculate takeoff speeds and engine settings, which means KLM can carry an additional 10 tons of cargo on each 777 flight.

The next step, Kleiboer said, is to link the airplane to computers on the ground. "The goal is to eliminate all the paper from the flight deck."

In 7E7 news, Boeing executives recently met with leaders of Emirates to discuss the new jetliner.

The Dubai-based airline issued a press release saying it is "very interested" in the development of the new plane. "We see the Boeing 7E7 as a potential means to enable us to maintain our advantage in the marketplace."

Emirates is one of the airlines working with Boeing on the design specifics for the new jet.

In east Asia, the Taipei Times reported that Japan Airlines has opened talks with both Boeing and Airbus on ordering 15 midsized wide-body jets. The airline plans to phase out the 767s and A300s in its fleet in 2008 — just as the new Dreamliner enters service.


And finally, some interesting quotes from last week’s teleconference with Boeing Chairman Phil Condit:

  • "The single biggest activity at (Boeing Commercial Airplanes) is the drive toward lean manufacturing," Condit told reporters and analysts.

    The 7E7 will be the first Boeing jet designed to be built lean, he added. "The biggest change in the 7E7 program is the way it’s designed for manufacturability and designed for cost."

  • The 747 order backlog is shrinking. Could the end of the jumbo jet be near?

    No, Condit said, "I don’t foresee having to make a decision there for a number of years."

    Reporter Bryan Corliss: 425-339-3454 or corliss@heraldnet.com.

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