The Dream is here!

This is the month the much-awaited Dreamliner touches down in Nairobi. We asked Francis Musila, Kenya Airways’ Enhancement and Fleet Management manager about the new bird

DreamIsHereQ What makes the Dreamliner a great acquisition business-wise?
The 787 brings with it lower operating costs, excellent range, and less maintenance downtime. These are critical factors to the business because it means we can fly more guests directly to where they want to go and we can do so more efficiently with lower impact on the environment. Its impressive range also affords us greater flexibility and capability on our route network.

The 787 model will replace the 767 aircraft that have been flying in our fleet since 2001. With the 787 we will bring in the latest cabin, latest in-flight entertainment, new on-board products, better designed and ergonomic features for our cabin crew, better flying experience for our pilots and many more design features.

We are really looking forward to the increased fuel efficiency of the 787 over the 767 aircraft. That will be a straight positive impact to our bottom line, so the Dreamliner makes a lot of business sense. Coupled with this are projected lower maintenance costs, as the aircraft will spend less time in the hangar and more time flying. Great news for the flying public.

Q Why should your passengers start celebrating?
Superb passenger comfort, with an all-new cabin interior. Guests will be delighted at how comfortable this aircraft is to fly in. The cabin environment is full of subtle design nuggets that make the overall experience more relaxing. It features state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment with hundreds of hours of options, be they movies or documentaries or even games. It truly has been built and designed to meet our guests’ needs. Due to the ‘lower cabin altitude’ (lower cabin pressure), the air in the aircraft will have more moisture content (higher humidity – reducing the dry air effect common in air travel) and you should arrive at your destination feeling more relaxed
and comfortable.

Q What does this acquisition mean for Kenya Airways in terms of your fleet management?
The 787 is part of our strategy to simplify our fleet. Operating fewer aircraft types streamlines overall maintenance costs, helps us to build more specific expertise and enables us to enjoy economies of scale. The 787 will mainly fly on intercontinental routes linking people all over the world. It will enable our Network to grow frequencies to daily in most markets, without too high a risk (i.e. filling 234 seats daily per destination).

The 787 is an all-new aircraft type, employing the latest technology, and will be around for many years to come. This means Kenya Airways will have the very best and newest aircraft out there. We are operating alongside world-class carriers as a world-class carrier; therefore we have to have world-class equipment – from the aircraft, to the cabin, to entertainment and so on.

As mentioned earlier, the 787 replaces the ageing 767s, all of which are expected to be out of our Network by the end of 2014. The interior of the 787 has been designed to be similar to that of the 777-300ER, the first of which we have received and is currently flying direct to Guangzhou in China three times a week. We expect two more 777s this year.

Q What level of technical preparations has your team been engaged in to receive the Dreamliner?
Over the past 24 months we have been working very closely with Boeing to prepare for the aircraft. A tremendous amount of resources have been invested in ensuring that there are sufficient engineers, technicians, cabin crew and Flight Deck crew trained. We have also invested heavily in ensuring that we have the necessary spare parts support, vendor support and repair capability to operate the Dreamliner smoothly.

Our internal teams have been sensitising the organisation about the new features and capabilities this aircraft brings, so that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were. Our colleagues on the ground who will be operating at or near the aircraft have been trained on the aircraft and will be among the first to get hands-on experience in managing it. This will also include suppliers such as fuel companies, caterers, aircraft cleaners, etc. We are keenly aware that this plane is different in many respects to others in the fleet – from the composite skin to the electrical systems, e-Enabled systems, new products such as window dimmers and so on. The first two weeks after the Dreamliner lands in Nairobi will be used for familiarisation training before we start commercial flights.

A critical part of the technical preparations is to win operating authority from our regulators, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. They have also been involved in our preparation plans.

Q What changes have been made in your department?
For more than a year we have run a dedicated Programme Office to manage the entry into service of the 787; the team is tasked with ensuring that everyone will be ready to receive, operate and maintain the new aircraft.

Q What challenges do you anticipate the acquisition of these planes will present to KQ?
The 787 is a complete departure from the norm in terms of how it is operated and maintained. The term in the industry is ‘network-centric.’ This means that it relies a lot on a computer-based infrastructure, with wireless access points and so on, to enable it to send and receive not only data but also software updates and upgrades, without the need for physical loading through conventional boxes and components.

Q What technical systems have been put in place?
We call this ‘e-Enabling’. It will be supported by an all-new data centre with new computer equipment, infrastructure, connectivity, security and redundancy systems. We have set up dedicated data infrastructure specifically for the 787. This ensures that the aircraft will have the digital-based systems on the ground to enable it to operate as it is supposed to. There are a lot of new systems and components on the aircraft that require all-new capability for our workshops and maintenance organisation. We have invested in upgrading the workshops to handle these new systems.

Q What are some of the plans you have to better your fleets?
As part of our overall strategy of maintaining a modern, efficient and young fleet of aircraft, we are constantly looking at what the manufacturers are doing; what new aircraft types are envisioned in the coming years, and which are likely to fit in our current and future airline network and overall strategy. The industry is constantly innovating and we keep abreast of it all. We will be rolling out a fleet refresh on some of our older aircraft to ensure that KQ remains the Pride of Africa.

The 787 will work as part of our overall fleet structure. We are a network airline and we rely on narrow-body aircraft feeding and de-feeding the wide-body aircraft used on intercontinental flights via our Nairobi JKIA hub.

As mentioned earlier, key to our fleet strategy is simplifying the fleet mix. Fewer aircraft types and more aircraft per type means we build economies of scale.. We will see the following trend: Embraer E190 aircraft for our domestic and regional flights, the B737-800 for further African routes, and the 787 and 777 flying the intercontinental routes. The 777 will generally fly to the more mature, high-traffic routes.