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All Nippon Airways criticises Dreamliner windows

Japanese air carrier says Boeing's technology is not good enough.
(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

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Electronic dimmable windows, one of the high-tech innovations on Boeing's Dreamliner aircraft, are not sufficiently dark for long haul flights, the plane’s launch customer has claimed.

The US-based planemaker’s launch customer for its 787 Dreamliner, Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA) has asked for conventional pull-down blinds to be installed instead.

"For our passengers to have good sleep, we realised that it is important to offer appropriate darkness during flights especially for long haul," ANA company spokesman Ryosei Nomura told Reuters.

Boeing has disputed ANA's complaint. "The response of our customers and the flying public to the larger, dimmable windows on the 787 has been very favorable," Boeing said in a statement. "As always, Boeing works with its customers on an ongoing basis to understand new requirements and offer solutions."

The 20 percent larger-than-standard dimmable windows, the first on a commercial passenger jet, darken but do not go opaque.

This criticism of one of the most visible and eye-catching features seen by passengers will be an embarrassment after three years of production delays and is likely to be seized on by rival Airbus as it develops a different kind of system for the future A350, its answer to the Dreamliner, which is due in 2014.

"If it can't be fixed it's a minor embarrassment [for Boeing]", said Richard Aboulafia, a US aerospace analyst with Teal Group. He added that, more importantly, the issue did not affect the 787's airworthiness.

Still, the disclosure comes at an uncomfortable moment weeks before the July 9-15 Farnborough Airshow at which Boeing plans to showcase the first 787 Dreamliner to be delivered to prominent Middle East customer Qatar Airways.

Boeing declined to say whether other 787 customers had asked for darker windows or to discuss how it would meet ANA's request.

The aircraft made its first visit to Abu Dhabi this month, with the aircraft touching down in the UAE capital on June 7.

Etihad Airways, which has 41 of the 300-passenger capacity aircraft on order for a total of US$9.3bn, welcomed the plane to the UAE capital after it arrived from Casablanca, Morocco.

Deliveries to Etihad are scheduled to begin in 4Q2014 and once complete the UAE carrier will be the largest operator of the 787 Dreamliner in the world. Etihad has options and purchase rights for a further 25 of the aircraft.

When the aircraft joins the Etihad fleet it will be used to service routes from Abu Dhabi including Dublin, Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Nagoya, Delhi and Istanbul.

Rival carrier Qatar Airways will be the first Middle East customer of the Boeing 787, with 60 aircraft on order, including options. The Doha-based airline is preparing to take delivery of five 787s during 2012, with the first lot to arrive in Qatar this summer.

Cabin accessories are a vital part of the battle between Airbus and Boeing for deliveries worth some US$80 billion a year.

Airbus, Toulouse-based EADS's planemaking division, recently went as far as measuring the time it takes to darken the electro-chromically operated windows on the 787 against the switch-operated mechanical blinds it plans to offer as an option on the A350, saying it takes 2 minutes to fully darken a 787 window and one second to blot out the light on a 350 mock-up.

The European manufacturer has told industry specialists that the technology used by Boeing does not provide 100 percent darkness and could add to maintenance cost. However, industry experts say designers must balance this against the extra weight of mechanical features compared with electronic parts.
 

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