As Newcastle welcomed a flying visit by British Airways new Boeing 787 Dreamliner – which from next month will begin transatlantic crossings out of Heathrow – airline bosses refused to rule out the possibility of bringing one of the planes to the region on a more permanent basis.
Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director at Newcastle International, said he hoped it had been proved the airport was more than capable of handling the latest generation of airliners.
“I think planes like this, in the long term, could open up opportunities for regional airports to get more services as, as this visit has proven, you can fly a modern long haul aircraft from our runway,” he said.
In the shorter term BA’s director of operations Andy Lord is hoping the aircraft will prove a more indirect benefit for the region’s economy.
“Whether leisure or business travellers, this new connection on to a Dreamliner at Heathrow will give the people of the North East opportunities and hopefully provide a boost for business – and British Airways are happy to be a part of that.
“With the 787s to Toronto and New York, and the A380s to LA and Hong Kong, and more aircraft coming in and offering more possibilities, it will hopefully encourage more people to fly.
“And while at the moment we have no intention to bring the Dreamliner up to the North East on a regular basis – we’ll maybe see charters or diversions – if there was some commercial reason to come, then who knows?”
The Dreamliner is one of the most advanced commercial aircraft in the world, with a fuselage made from composite materials like carbon fibre, which is stronger, allows bigger windows and the cabin to be pressurised at a lower altitude, helping to reduce jet-lag.
The Boeing aircraft is also fuel-efficient – burning 20% less fuel than the aircraft it replaces – and has an anti-turbulence system, like the stabilisers on a cruise ship, for a smoother ride.
And, following the installation of new batteries it is hoped that a repeat of the problems seen aboard early Dreamliners – where lithium-ion batteries overheated or caught fire – can be avoided.
Richard Tams, British Airways’ head of UK sales and marketing, said: “Our customers in the north of England are hugely important to us, and we wanted them to be among the first to see the new aircraft and to learn about all the benefits it brings.”
Former air force pilot Mitch Preston, who had previously landed RAF Tornadoes and short haul flights at Newcastle International Airport, was at the controls as the 214-seat aircraft touched down just before 10.25 yesterday morning. With the heads up display in the cockpit – like a fighter plane – and landing at Newcastle, it felt very much like coming home for me,” said Mr Preston, who was earlier accompanied by a Spitfire as he flew over Derby’s Rolls Royce factory.