The Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its final approach to Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Boeing) Hundreds of aviation aficionados in the D.C. area are getting a first-hand look at the new, highly fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner this week as it dropped by Ronald Reagan National Airport along its world tour. EESI Executive Director Carol Werner was one of them, and she was impressed by the airliner’s many energy saving features.

The 300-passenger Dreamliner produces 20 percent fewer carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than other, similarly sized planes, and consumes 20 percent less fuel. It achieves such commendable results in three ways: through better aerodynamics (new materials allow closer mimicry of a bird’s wings, which, after millions of years of evolution, have been finely honed to maximize air flow), through more efficient turbines and, most importantly, through lighter weight.

Indeed, by using plastic and carbon fiber composites, the 787 is 20,000 to 30,000 pounds lighter than the comparable 767. Boeing’s engineers have left no stone unturned in their quest for higher energy efficiency. The Dreamliner’s reading lights are now LEDs, which are not only much less power hungry, but also much more durable, coming with a lifetime guarantee. Carol was told by a Boeing engineer that traditional incandescent reading lights in aircraft must generally be replaced every week!

Boeing and its customers aren’t bleeding heart environmentalists: fuel efficiency is great for the environment, but it’s great for the bottom line as well. According to the International Air Transport Association, fuel is the airline industry's biggest expense, accounting for 34 percent of its operating costs. As Jim McNerney, Boeing’s CEO and president, puts it, "That's what the airlines want to do: They want to be able to fly a long way and sip Jet A, not gulp it, because of the price and the uncertainty of the price of oil.” Airlines are also eager to reduce their emissions now that the European Union's Emissions Trading System has been extended to aviation.

Further cuts in CO2 emissions can be achieved through the use of renewable aviation fuels . The Dreamliner spectacularly demonstrated its ability to run on a biofuel blend (a mixture of used cooking oil and normal jet fuel) when it completed the world’s first biofuel-powered flight across the Pacific Ocean on April 17, 2012.

All this is great, but most potential passengers are primarily interested in how comfortable the ride will be. Here again, Carol was impressed. Higher ceilings, much bigger windows (at 19 inches tall, they are 30 percent larger than those of older models) and more bin capacity all make for a much more pleasant travel experience. As an added benefit, the windows feature electrochromic technology, meaning they can be dimmed at will at the touch of a button. Even landlubbers will have something to look forward to: the Dreamliner is 60 percent quieter than other similar aircraft. Now if they could only make security checks less of a hassle!