CNBCfix review: ‘Dreamliner’
is bumpy ride through recent
Boeing headlines

          Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yes. It works.

That's the biggest question most viewers have about Boeing's Dreamliner, and while not in service yet, it's clear from Phil LeBeau's CNBC documentary "Dreamliner: Inside the World's Most Anticipated Airplane" that the next stage of air passenger service is at hand.

LeBeau, CNBC's automotive and airline reporter and one of the network's savviest beacons of knowledge, unfortunately pilots an hourlong documentary that's far more suited for Boeing engineers and laborers than the masses who fly in their planes.

The program, which premiered the week of the 787's official maiden flight, like many CNBC documentaries was pegged to a specific day. It is not one of the better efforts of LeBeau and Senior Executive Producer Mitch Weitzner, who have packaged minimal new material with a scattershot, brief overview of the company's recent problems. Apparently just to keep the positive-negative equation semi-balanced, LeBeau gives prominent airtime to the remarkable drones Boeing makes for the U.S. military and updates to the 747, fascinating subjects that don't belong in this program.

It's too bad, because the better CNBC documentaries tend to run for months or years, and interest in the Dreamliner is bound to grow as it begins making commercial flights in 2011.

LeBeau would do much better devoting the time to telling viewers how the Dreamliner is different than the way they fly now. He does illustrate the increased perception of space, bigger overhead compartments, the softer lighting and digital window shades. He takes a seat with interior designer Blake Emery, who concedes so much of the typical flight experience depends on airport hassles and flight attendant courtesies.

But what about other important things ... is the bathroom a nice place to be? Will the TVs (which appear to be 1 for each chair) and audio system always work? Will passengers experience less turbulence, or no difference? Easier takeoffs and landings?

Other than a split-second glimpse of a lavatory, LeBeau is silent on these subjects. His news coup, if there is one here, is getting technicians on the plant floor to frankly admit this was a production nightmare. Outsourcing led to an erratic parts schedule, from foreign suppliers who either couldn't meet demand or get the specs right. Those are reasons why the plane hasn't been in service yet. Passengers want to know what to expect once it is.

LeBeau has nothing from pilots as to whether the plane is better to fly than existing aircraft, other than showing a "state of the art" flight deck (if it was "archaic," that would be a surprise). Will it be any trickier for controllers or airport ground crews? Presumably no.

It's fairly obvious that the best thing about the Dreamliner is the fuel efficiency. It'll save the airlines, and hopefully their passengers, money. Whether that excites fliers as much as Wall Street is debatable. There are times LeBeau appears to be speaking to the investor community. They would be interested in stock performance and opinions on whether negative Dreamliner news is built into the stock, whether Boeing can meet the demand in timely fashion, whether demand will persist, whether its chief rival, Airbus, has a similar product in the pipeline. But this program is intended to be long-running, so LeBeau completely avoids that material.

Morgan Stanley analyst Heidi Wood says that by 2022, "we will probably applaud" the brilliance of the plane. Perhaps. What viewers want to know is whether fliers will be applauding in 2012.

"Dreamliner: Inside the World's Most Anticipated Airplane" (2011)
Featuring: Jim McNerney, Dave Reese, John Hart-Smith, Pat Shanahan, Heidi Wood, Blake Emery, Jeff Smisek, Michael Boyd, Charlie Guthrie, Nick Schwellenbach, Jim Albaugh, Joe McAleer, Joe Sutter, Dennis O'Donoghue, Dena Bartman

Senior executive producer: Mitch Weitzner
Senior producer: Wally Griffith
Producers: Deborah Camiel, Oliver Miede, Meghan Reeder
Lead editor: Patrick Ahearn
Editors: Richard Korn, Michael Sheehan
Camera: Geoff Nelson, Robert Pollack
Additional camera: David Baker, Plummer Crawley, David Dellaria, Joseph DeWitt, Alexis Duclos, Jason Fowler, Gim Lay, Raul Marin, Marco Mastrorilli, Timothy Tyler
Audio: Michael Bidese, Stewart Goldstein, Jeffery Hoien, Chris McIntire, Anna Rieke, David Schumacher, Jim Skvaril, Charles Tomaras
Japan crew:
Camera: Hide Hatayama
Audio: Yasu Koudono, Rin Takada
Translation: Nahoko Yamada, Arata Yamamoto
Coordinating producer: Christie Gripenburg
Production assistants: Victoria Gonzalez, Rita Warkov
Senior animator: Jacqueline Dessel
Designer/animator: James Crothers
Senior designer: Nick O'Connor
Director of post production: Vito Tattoli
Manager and chief photographer: Angel Perez
Global creative director: Victoria Todis
Production manager: Tracy Lawrence
Media coordinator: Richard Marko
Archivists: Alana Cooley, Katherine Reimchen
Music librarians: Salvatore Carosone, Lauren Ricci-Horn
Interns: Joseph Ferraro, Alec Forrester
Additional footage: All Nippon Airways, Charles Datlen, Laser Advertising, Inc. The Boeing Company, The Seattle Times
Additional photos: Copyright Boeing
Special thanks: NBC News Tokyo Bureau
Interview with Heidi Wood of Morgan Stanley conducted August 2, 2011
Vice president, long form programming: Ray Borelli

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