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Boeing's 787 sales pitch stresses greater comfort, lowered costs

SEATTLE -- Boeing Co. has snagged hundreds of orders for its new 787 with a sales pitch that leans heavily on the light, sturdy carbon-fiber composites replacing most of the aluminum on the plane, meaning less fuel and fewer maintenance costs.

But Boeing says it's designed everything inside the plane, from air filters and electric generators to high-tech cabin lighting and in-flight-entertainment systems, with an eye toward cost-cutting and comfort.

The 787 will have much less wiring than the comparably sized 767 -- about 61 miles compared to 91. While that makes it cheaper and easier for airlines to repair, for passengers it means bigger overhead bins and more elbow room.

In-flight entertainment systems will be lighter and feature seat-back monitors and handsets with tiny keyboards on the back so that someday -- engineers aren't yet sure when -- they can be used for instant messaging.

The plane will burn fuel more efficiently and sap less energy from its engines, because its systems will be powered almost entirely by high-voltage electric generators, rather than the typical system that runs on air sucked through the engines.

Flight-control electronics, which run all the systems that guide the airplane in flight, are smaller than they've ever been before, less than a quarter the size of those on the 777, Boeing's last all-new plane, which began flying commercially in 1995.

Even wear and tear on tires may be lessened because of cockpit display panels that help pilots land more precisely.

Some of the 787's features, however, are all about comfort.

New software is designed to help the plane respond quickly to vertical gusts in the frequency that most often trigger motion sickness.

Cabin lighting can simulate a sunrise, gradually shifting from deep blue to warm orange to soft white, sparing passengers from the jolt of bright lights at the end of an overnight flight.

Window shades are gone, replaced by controls that can darken the glass to a passenger's preference, and the windows themselves are bigger. Studies have shown that passengers feel more at ease with a clear view of the horizon.

And for the first time, Boeing has added an air-purification system.

Engineers working on individual systems also worked in tandem with engineers involved in other parts of the aircraft, said Mike Sinnett, director of systems for the 787.

"It's unlike anything we've ever done before, and as a result, I think we've hit the sweet spot in so many more areas than we would have otherwise," Sinnett said.

Passengers will probably never notice many of the upgrades Boeing has worked into the 787, which is scheduled to enter commercial service next May.

Yet Boeing does hope passengers notice that the 787's cabin is more accurately pressurized and that the air is less dry; the goal is to keep humidity around 15 percent. Today, most cabins can drop to as low as 2 percent.

Boeing also has high hopes for its full-spectrum lighting system -- perhaps a bit more than it should. Sean Sullivan, who leads the 787 cabin services team, said airlines will be able to change the color of cabin light, even to make the food look tastier.

"Trust me," he said, "your food will look great. If you do it wrong, you can make your food look really bad."

(Correction: Because of an editing error, a photo of a Boeing 747 freighter was mistakenly used to illustrate a story in yesterday's Business section about the new Boeing 787 passenger aircraft, scheduled to begin flying next year. The 747 is used to ferry parts for the 787 to Boeing's plant in Everett, Wash.)