Digital Nerd

Monday, August 01, 2005

More from Boeing

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Media Relations

There's nothing like getting an entire day's worth of news coverage for your new airplane on national television!

This week the 777-200LR World Tour touched down in the largest media market in the U.S. And I had the unique experience of helping coordinate news coverage for Boeing during the Worldliner's stop at Newark Liberty International Airport, just outside New York City.

777-200LR photo

The Worldliner "on stage" at Newark Liberty International Airport.

We hosted about a dozen news organizations at a Continental Airlines hangar - reporters from the New York Times, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones, Aviation Week, Associated Press, and others. But probably the marquee event was a series of "live" reports direct from inside and outside the airplane, broadcast by CNBC, a national business news television channel.

As you might imagine, considering this all took place inside the airport's security perimeter, the trickiest part of the planning process was logistics. Enhanced security at EWR meant that everyone had to pass through checkpoints. Everything was inspected, and we were all "wanded" by security personnel.

Then, to add another wrinkle, Air Force Two, the Vice President's airplane, flew into Newark Airport at about the same time as our events. So we had extra security personnel around us. Air Force Two, which happens to be based on the 757-200 platform, ended up parked nearby - in fact, we could see its distinctive livery just beyond the Continental hangar.

Inside, the Worldliner was bathed in spotlights and looked fabulous. But I must admit, walking into the hangar felt like entering a sauna. Not that it was any better outside. Let's just say 90 degrees and mostly steamy. New Jersey in July can be pretty brutal.

Cooling down the airplane took a couple of hours and some heavy-duty tubing to force cold air in through a cabin doorway. It was still a bit uncomfortable when the media first arrived. Luckily our intrepid Boeing flight attendants were on hand with bottled water. And the reporters and camera crews were fairly good-natured about the situation.

As for the CNBC coverage, it exceeded all our expectations. Arriving at the hangar with Vice President of Business Strategy and Marketing, Nicole Piasecki, and 777 program communications manager Chuck Cadena, we all talked over the plan for the day with reporter Phil LeBeau. That plan would produce several great opportunities to show off the 777-200LR.

777-200LR photo

Inside the 777-200LR: Nicole Piasecki "live" on CNBC Monday morning in Newark.

The CNBC crew set up a satellite truck to beam the reports back to the studio. And despite advances in video technology, this still meant running cables hundreds of feet through the hangar and up the stairs into the airplane.

First report was at 10:15 a.m., during CNBC's "Squawk Box" program. After a toss from the studio crew about a big order for Next-Generation 737s from Brazilian carrier GOL, Phil chatted "live" at the top of the air stairs with Nicole.

Inside the airplane Nicole pointed out that the Worldliner represents an answer to what passengers are demanding: more convenience and more time-saving. "We believe passengers want nonstop flights and greater frequencies so they don't have to wait in an airport all day long and they don't have to go through a hub," she told the nationwide audience.

Around lunchtime, a couple of hundred Continental Airlines employees streamed into the hangar. Everyone from ground crews wearing bright orange reflective vests, to flight crews and executives. The flight crews in particular were interested in exploring the crew rest areas. These are located above the passenger deck in the crown of the airplane's fuselage.

Comments throughout the airplane were mostly of the "wow" variety, as people craned their heads upward at the starry "sky." It's a custom-designed ceiling, lit from behind to resemble the stars at night.

777-200LR photo

The "starry" mood lighting on the World Tour aircraft is an astronomically correct night sky as you'd see in Seattle.

That starry sky captivated the media, too. A reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger asked me later whether this would be offered to airlines as an option. The answer is yes. And the "stars" can be configured to correspond with the way the night sky looks in an airline's home country.

At a little after 1 pm, CNBC's Phil LeBeau took a novel approach to reporter involvement. With the permission (and help) of our airplane crew, he got up inside the left engine. Now, keep in mind, these are the largest, most powerful commercial jet engines in the world. They're actually about the same size around as the fuselage of the 737!

So the sight of the reporter standing inside this huge engine was enough to cause the studio anchor for CNBC's "Power Lunch" to exclaim, "Will you please get down from there? You're making me really nervous!"

LeBeau had some fun with that one, saying, "It's not like they're gonna turn it on. And if they do turn it on, this is my last report on CNBC!"

777-200LR photo

Reporting from inside a GE90-115B engine, CNBC's Phil LeBeau gives new meaning to the phrase, "Power Lunch."

Well, he didn't get sucked into the engine, but just before he went on the air, he did manage to conk his head on the spinner cone in the center of the engine. That produced a few chuckles among the airplane crew.

Later in the afternoon, in the final report of the day, LeBeau walked viewers through the business class and showed the "huge" 15-inch screens set into the seat backs. With a remote control passengers can choose among a variety of movies and other entertainment on those long-haul flights.

What he didn't demonstrate, but what many of us on the event team certainly tried out, were the amazing business class seats. They have so many controls they should come with an instruction booklet. Not only can you lie nearly flat for comfortable napping, the seats even have lumbar adjustments and settings for extending the seat bottom and foot rests when you're sitting up.

At the end of the afternoon I found myself more than a little reluctant to bid farewell to the Worldliner. And not only because by then it was comfortably cool inside and roaring hot outside on the tarmac.

I'd just spent a day touring the future of flight, and helping to share it with the world. Once inside that future, I didn't want to leave. Fortunately the future isn't far away at all. In just a few months this very airplane will go from being an "experimental" show plane to flying passengers around the globe.

But not before one more really big show later this year that's already generating a lot of media interest: a nonstop ultra-long-distance flight, aimed straight for the Guinness Book of World Records.

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