January 19, 2007 4:00 AM PST

From Boeing, a whole new 747

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September 18, 2006
RENTON, Wash.--From outside Boeing's nondescript building in an even more nondescript office park, you'd never know that inside sits one of the most important commercial products in the company's history.

But it was here that Boeing on Thursday publicly unveiled for the first time the interior of its 747-8 Intercontinental. When it launches in 2010, the jet will become the first new major passenger model in the company's storied franchise since the 747-400 in 1989, and, very likely, a dominant airplane in the years ahead.

The 747-8 represents part of a new era of jumbo jet for Boeing. Along with the company's 787 Dreamliner, which also is still set to hit the skies, the 747-8 will attempt to attract customers with a new curved architecture (its wings curve upward in a way that traditional airliners' don't).

747-8 interior

Thursday's event, however, was all about the inside, with no exterior at all on display for a group of reporters and photographers.

The aircraft--which Boeing says will be quieter and more fuel-efficient than existing models--is expected to hold up to 467 passengers, 51 more than on a current 747-400. It will offer 21 percent more lower-hold revenue cargo volume than the 747-400 and cost about 8 percent less per seat mile to operate, Boeing says. And to hear the company tell it, passengers are going to have a much better flying experience than ever before.

"Those of us in the interiors business have been having more fun than maybe we should get paid for," said Klaus Brauer, Boeing's director of passenger satisfaction and revenue. "Passengers on intercontinental flights are bored (because they have nothing to capture their attention during their experience). So, what's the experience they could take part in on an airplane" that would engage them?

Added Brauer, "The singularly unifying experience is flying."

Ideally, he explained, Boeing wants 747-8 passengers to feel like flying is enjoyable. To achieve that, Brauer and his team have focused on creating an interior that seeks to mimic room-like spaces and doesn't feel like an airplane. Such comfort is particularly important, he said, since the act of flying in the post-September 11 era has generally become one long, sometimes-tedious line after another.

Up the curved staircase
"The watchword in our design process was that by the time (most passengers) get to the door of our airplane, they're already in the middle of the worst day they've had this year," Brauer said. "So how can we isolate people from that?"

The answer, he said, is to "welcome them."

Boeing has designed the 747-8 so passengers will enter the plane through a wide-open foyer area that includes a curved staircase leading to the upper deck and a view of the main business-class cabin.

The idea, he said, is that through design, passengers can be made to feel that they're in a space that's comfortable, pleasing to the eyes and unlike anything they've experienced in the air before.

To reinforce the notion that the plane is more "room-like," its interior will be designed with smaller spaces between sections.

Of course, to this reporter's untrained eye, many of the design flourishes of the 747-8 interior seemed to be in the business-class area. A smaller, coach-class section behind the main area seemed cramped and unspectacular. It did have the same window and overhead cabin design that Brauer said was built to increase passenger comfort. But with 10 people spread across the width of the plane, and not even a pen's width of legroom between seats, it's unlikely coach passengers are going to be thinking much about architecture on a 12-hour flight.

Still, standing in the main entrance looking toward the front of the "plane," it did feel like a very attractive space. And while it's worth noting that what Boeing showed Thursday was a best-case scenario--since airlines will be free to add more seats, and almost certainly will do so--there's little doubt that the company knows what it's doing and that flying on the 747-8 will be a much more comfortable experience than many 747-400 passengers have become used to.

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