Boeing jet to attempt record commercial flight

Boeing was trying for the world record of the longest-ever commercial flight on Wednesday, with its new 777 Worldliner set for a 23-hour flight from Hong Kong to London—flying east over the United States.

The company, locked in a bitter battle with European rival Airbus for the lucrative long-haul aviation market, said a demonstration model of the 777-200LR would go east rather than the usual western route over the Russian Federation.

The journey was expected to last about 23 hours, the longest flight to date for a passenger jet, and cover more than 20 100km, Boeing said. Take-off was scheduled for 10:30pm (2.30pm GMT).

“Boeing is set to make aviation history,” said Lars Andersen, Vice-President in charge of the 777 programme at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “We are going to set a new long-distance, non-stop record for commercial planes.”

The plane, powered by General Electric aircraft engines, will take off with a full load of fuel and carrying 35 people, including airline executives, journalists and clients as well as crew members.

The current record for a commercial jetliner flight was set in 1989 by a Boeing 747-400 that flew 17 000km non-stop from London to Sydney.

Boeing hurled a challenge at European rival Airbus in February by rolling out its first 777-200LR, which it claims is the longest-range commercial aircraft in the world.

Andersen said it could connect “any two cities around the globe”.

It extends the range of the twin-engined 777 family by more than 2 750km and would allow non-stop service between New York and Singapore, Los Angeles and Dubai, or Australia and New York, he said.

The Worldliner will be able to carry 301 passengers and 17 tonnes of cargo up to 17 450 kilometers, the company said.

The first Worldliner is expected to go into service after being delivered to Pakistan International Airlines in January 2006.

Boeing said it has so far received orders or commitments for five planes, including from Qatar Airways and Air India.
It expects the plane to draw more interest from Asia.

Air experts hailed the ground-breaking flight. But they disagreed about whether passengers actually wanted to fly so long without a break.

“If Boeing is able to produce a flight from London to Sydney non-stop, there’s no doubt that people [will] want to go direct. This is highly significant in the evolution for the industry,” said Martin Craigs, president of Aerospace Forum Asia which hosts conferences and forums for the aviation industry.

“The issue is that the public want to travel more and the industry and the government have to provide that because it is essential [for] the global economy.”

Craigs said planes like the Worldliner would generate cost savings with less fuel used which would also benefit the environment.

But Jim Eckes, managing director of Indoswiss Aviation Consultancy, was not so convinced, arguing passengers had a flying limit.

“The big problem is whether the passengers want to stay on the airplane for so long,” he said.

“Flying 16 hours is about a breakpoint. I don’t think anybody these days says they really enjoy being on a long-haul flight. There is a limited time you can put people through.”

Craigs however said airlines were constantly improving cabin conditions and passenger comfort.

“People used to say flying 10 hours was too long but the truth is no one would fly half way if you can fly direct,” he said.

“Manufacturers are improving cabin environment all the time, air quality, pressurisation, entertainment systems and other physical and economic aspects.

“I’m positive this would work.” - AFP

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