The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first all-new airplane design of the twenty-first century, redefines commercial jet design and manufacture in innovative ways that are changing the aviation industry. The 787 Dreamliner's composite materials, aerodynamics, systems, and propulsion all reflect significant technological breakthroughs relative to the performance and capabilities of the airplane. Equally important, the 787 passenger cabin reflects radical innovations that both build on and depart from traditional thinking about what passengers want.
The innovations in the 787 passenger cabin are based on input from the passengers themselves. In a radical departure from previous industry practice, Boeing used a number of innovative research methods to explore the emotional values and psychological experiences connected with the experience of commercial flight. These values and experiences were then integrated into the design of the passenger cabin. The result is a very different cabin design intended to foster a very different kind of flying experience. In the quest to reinvent this experience, Boeing learned--and relearned--important lessons about innovation.
Developments in Passenger Cabin Innovation
As commercial aviation developed in the first half of the twentieth century, airplane design improved at a rapid pace. Such developments were prominently focused on airplane structure and performance, as well as experiments with new flight technology. But there were also efforts to improve the airplane interior and passenger experience. Pressurized cabins introduced in the Model 307 Stratoliner allowed airplanes to fly above rough weather, making for a smoother flight and a much improved passenger experience (Figure 1). This development also dramatically extended the concept of the cabin as an environment intended to protect passengers from the hostile natural forces outside. Passenger service units gave each seat individual lighting and flowed-air controls, attendant call buttons, and oxygen mask storage. Closable storage bins replaced open hat racks. Cabin architecture evolved to focus attention on the windows and make them seem larger (Figure 2).
Other less practical efforts seem quaint and amusing in retrospect. One early design offered cabin windows that passengers could actually open. The Model 314 Clipper offered dressing rooms, a dining salon that could be turned into a lounge, and even a bridal suite. Other models included lounges and similar amenities as well (Figure 3).
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Many of these advances reflect the definition of innovation--taking something that already exists and putting it to some new, sometimes radically different, use. In the early days of commercial flight, for example, Boeing Air Transport required that a registered nurse be aboard every flight. This led to the idea of flight attendants, further expanding and advancing the concept of passenger comfort and service.
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Whether successful or not, all of these developments played a role in the evolution of airplane interiors and the passenger experience. They also were developed by airplane manufacturers in response to their customers--the airlines. The operative presumption throughout the industry was that airlines knew best what passengers wanted and needed. But while airlines typically paid attention to passenger needs and preferences, they also balanced such considerations against cost and reliability from an operating standpoint. In addition, not all airlines were in a position to systematically study passenger needs and preferences.
With the development of the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing challenged the presumption that airlines should be the exclusive source of information guiding cabin design. The 787 Dreamliner clearly reflects the needs of customer airlines and the realities of the air travel industry. But in designing the interior of the airplane, Boeing went beyond traditional sources of airplane design information and turned directly to the flying public. …