|Zorbing in Rotorua by Matt Heap 2005|
PRESS RELEASE: COUNTRY SIZE, COUNTRY-CLUB FEEL
Seattle-based Boeing Company reported the sale Friday of three colossal custom jets of the new 777-77 Series. Spokesperson Lee Whittock says they will surpass the 747 fleet outfitted for the Saudi Royal family and the 769 created for Oracle Executive Chairman, Larry Ellison. The buzz centers on the addition of on-board golf and swimming.
Par Three Air-Golf with actual balls and real grass became a reality with the inclusion of two holes with hourglass-shaped greens at either end of a banana-shaped fairway inside the aircraft. Tail-ward, the pins are 100 yards left of the tee. Teeing off toward the nose, the flags are 110 yards to the right. The detachable belly of the plane allows the course to be watered, mowed and occasionally patched. Groundskeeper Julio Marquez thinks their course is the equal of any par-3’s on the ground. “The in-flight turbulence is an equal handicap to all but the veteran space traveler.” Says Marquez: “Those astronauts really know how to use gravity.”
Imagine traveling with a full goldfish bowl on your lap in coach. “The Air-Pool is our finest achievement,” says lead designer Larner Anthony Pique. “We have applied for 137 separate patents for lighting, entry and exit, in-flight stability, hygiene, swimmer safety and more. Swimmers have to be able to use the diving board even during a hard-banking turn,” says Pique. “And we had to keep water out of the cockpit. Conventional designs were out.”
They chose baffles inside a large, clear Lexan sphere resembling an enormous hamster ball. “By gimbling the ball and using multiple entry airlocks we maintain the water level, have one or another air lock lined up at all times and baffles keep the waves from getting too tall.” Stewardess Venus Miller regrets that life-guarding was seniority based. “It really should have been based on ability or at least on looks,” she said.
One of the new planes is earmarked for United CEO Jeff Smisek as part of his retirement package. Two are for Dubai’s Sheikh Sharif Mosalimy’s newly married daughter and son-in-law.
Delivery of the aircraft is expected to be in early 2016.
BOEING PLANES TO MAKE BIG SPLASH?
So Boeing’s shiny new transatlantic planes will offer swimming and golf in addition to the dining, gambling and racing facilities featured on their well known 777 Celebrities Series. Delivery, they say, should be in 2016.
Well, Boeing needs a winner. Although sales of their 737 and 767 efficiency commercial units have been competitively strong against Aerobus of the European Union, over all sales have been slow. The trend toward Vicarious Travel (or VT) is likely to continue with the roll-out of Apple’s Suitcase and competitor Microsoft’s Backpack series. Physical travel has also been hampered by the compromises made to allow many of the American airline companies to emerge from bankruptcy and compete again on the world level. Smaller seats, passenger height and weight restrictions and the prohibition of carry-on luggage seems to have dampened travel enthusiasm, according to Venus Miller, stewardess. “Our pay cuts won’t solve anything if nobody’s flying,” she said.
Neither business nor pleasure trippers have warmed to portal-to-portal Auto-Piloting of their planes, another of the recent innovations resulting from the dismal profit forecasts. “Travelers have been slow to give us a second chance after the first few accidents,” said Bob Wheeler of the Automated Pilots Union. “We counted on vindication from (its) Black Box recorder (Flight 1159, Taos Air), but the lack of data itself just seemed to fuel superstitions surrounding AP technology.”
Market strategists suggest that Boeing’s bold new emphasis on in-flight activity will be its undoing and have marked the stock a “sell.” Aerobus’ addition of VT availability to seated passengers underscores the difference in the two market strategies. “People don’t even have to hold a magazine in front of their face in awkward positions anymore,” says Apple’s Tim Cook. “If they really just want to read, they can V-See it.”
Boeing’s Lee Whittock strongly disagrees with the virtual application. “Travelers of this and the next generation have a See-it-for-Myself attitude or they wouldn't be traveling. Our success with Air-Tennis and Air-Bowling on our coast-to-coast flights bear this out.” Unfortunately, he admits, many of the advances that produced those sports were simply of not much use in the larger format of Air-Golf or the liquid problems of Air-Pool. Several technological barriers had to be overcome to allow the 777-77 to provide these truly unique sports experiences while in flight.
What’s ahead for Boeing? It had hoped for widening use of its 711 aircraft, but third quarter 711 Air-Mall results have been disappointing. While ridership was up slightly, same-plane sales of apparel and cosmetics were down 4%, jewelry and pharmaceuticals were down 10% and software was down 2%. Only electronics was up, showing plus 17% with the introduction to Air-shops of the smaller VT units like Air-Valise. Air-Gap (Chicago) announced it is pulling out of the New York-London market. Their replacement will be Air-Mervyns (Atlanta).
Alan Greenbaum, newly elected chairman of Air-Mall’s Board of Directors, said Thursday: “Air-Mall’s very existence on these planes is a combination of innovation and determination, reflective of the consumer’s demand for increasing variety and opportunity. Our growth shows a pattern of excitement followed by testing and experiment followed by confident re-evaluation and re-invention on a global scale.”
A-M’s stock was down Friday to a new low of 11 1/8, on light trading.