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Lofty 7E7 interior gets high marks
By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
When you enter a 7E7 jetliner, Boeing wants you to feel an airy sense of space and sky .
In the end, the airlines may compromise the effect by cramming in seats and thrusting your knees against the tray table in front, but at least the concept is there.
Boeing yesterday showed off a mock-up of its proposed next-generation jet's interior. The architecture enhances open overhead space. Ceiling lighting simulates day or nighttime sky . Windows are 19 inches tall, 27 percent taller than on existing Boeing planes, with special glass that turns opaque or transparent at the flick of a switch.
"It's something that speaks to the sky ," said Klaus Brauer, Boeing's specialist in airplane interiors.
When the 7E7 model was shown to airline representatives last week, even those who were impressed with the design leavened their praise with realism about what travelers might experience.
"The mock-up is not a real airplane; it's not something you would have in service," said Cathay Pacific Airways Vice President Peter Gardner. "But the concept is very good."
The basic concept was designed by Teague, an industrial-design company with 125 employees, headquartered in Belltown.
Teague was founded in New York City in 1927 by Walter Dorwin Teague, one of the fathers of industrial design. It moved to Seattle 10 years ago to be near Boeing, which brings in 75 percent of its business.
Teague has created the interiors of all Boeing jets for the past 57 years, starting with the 1947 Stratocruiser.
Its 7E7 concept begins at the entrance doorway.
The accentuated arches of the ceiling draw the eye to the overhead lighting , which is designed so that it's hard for the eye to judge how far away it is.
"The effect is, (the ceiling appears) infinitely far away and it's the sky ," said Brauer. "It's as if you walked from inside a small space, the jetway space, to out of doors."
The actual floor space at the entrance won't in fact be very different from what one sees in today's airplanes.
"Floor space is precious on airplanes," said Brauer. "The space we have to work with is overhead."
Boeing estimates, he said, that the floor space on an airplane is "worth about a thousand times as much as the most expensive real estate in Seattle."
At eye level, Boeing says, the 7E7 passenger-cabin cross-section is 14 inches wider than that of the comparable Airbus A330 jet. The difference is greater at the height of the overhead bins because the shape of the fuselage means the 7E7 cabin walls will be more vertical than rounded.
Taller passengers will have to do a lot less ducking as they get in and out of seats.
When asked what cabin improvements they would like, Brauer said, passengers invariably ask for more leg room, which is very expensive for an airline to provide.
"(Passengers) won't think at all of the kind of visual effects that we're giving here," said Brauer. "It's an unarticulated need."
"We have to do everything we can to make it a more attractive environment for passengers in a way that an airline can afford to deliver," he said.
The sky effect is most noticeable in "premium business class," where Boeing envisages the entire ceiling between the two side walls entirely open and lit with blue light-emitting diodes to simulate a skylight.
In economy class, because of the extra seats across, a double row of storage bins would crowd the center of the ceiling above the middle row of seats. The " sky lighting " would be restricted to a strip above each aisle.
For the short-range version of the 7E7 — on Japanese domestic routes, for example — where passengers typically don't carry a lot of luggage, Brauer anticipates some airlines will choose not to have those central overhead bins, saving more than 1,000 pounds in weight and allowing the full first-class sky effect to run the entire cabin length.
The 7E7 windows, lengthened vertical oblongs, allow passengers to see out without stooping. They give even aisle-seat passengers access to window light.
Brauer expects windows in the lavatories too.
Boeing plans to include technology that will allow the flight crew or passenger to vary the opacity of the windows, from fully transparent to fully opaque.
On an intercontinental flight, flying through bright sunlight, the cabin crew could select a "nighttime environment," switching the overhead lighting to a dark night sky and programming the windows to allow a maximum of 3 to 5 percent transparency.
With that setting, passengers could still see out, as if through a smoked-glass window. Or they could just darken the window completely to sleep or watch a video.
Another possible option: programming the overhead lighting display to simulate nighttime stars.
Boeing is pushing for a shift toward subdividing economy or coach-class passengers. Solo or business travelers would pay more to get wider seats. Tourists or families traveling together would settle for narrower seats at a cheaper price.
In the economy section of the mock-up, seats are 18.5 inches wide, slightly more than an inch wider than seats on a typical Boeing 737. Whether the airlines would give passengers that extra space would be up to them.
Boeing's board is expected to decide next month whether to go ahead with production of the 7E7.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company