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Encouraged By A380 Tests, Boeing Moves Up 787 Evac Drills

But Uses Real Americans... Not Gym Club Or Dance Troupe Members

04.01.06 'Special' Edition: In an unprecedented adjustment to the typical development cycle of a new airliner, Boeing announced last week the company would conduct what was described as a "preliminary evacuation exercise" of its upcoming 787 Dreamliner.

The tests, conducted early Saturday morning, utilized a full-scale mock-up of the 787's fuselage and what Boeing described as "real American citizens, not those handpicked 'evacuees' our friends across the pond used for the whalejet."

The result? All 262 passengers and crew were evacuated relatively safely from the Dreamliner cabin mockup... in 34 minutes and 17 seconds.

In the days leading up to the drill, Boeing said it would use "real people, with real issues" selected from among those waiting in line to tour Boeing's Everett, WA plant. Denizens of a local Wal-Mart were also among chosen to participate in the test.

Much of the 34-minute delay Saturday was caused by a Highland Park, TX woman who couldn't find her lipstick, and refused to leave the simulator until she found it -- thus holding up 87 passengers behind her, waiting to deplane through one of the Dreamliner mock-up's two overwing exits.

While those passengers would be almost assuredly doomed had the evacuation been an actual emergency, in the drill they were instead treated to a half-hour-long running commentary of said search, given by the woman as she talked on her cell phone.

Boeing reports approximately 127 participants were injured in the evacuation exercise -- including 43 who suffered fractured limbs tripping over the supersized "carry-on" luggage strewn throughout the darkened cabin. An additional 74 people suffered minor gluteal trauma when the evacuation slides deflated due to exceeding their rated weight limit.

There was one fatality -- although details were unavailable at press time, eyewitnesses state Boeing employees were quick to cover the body, with only a hand clutching a cell phone visible under the tarp.

"We knew we were in for some difficulties when we discovered nearly all of the participants we pulled had flown in, via Southwest, on a group-saver fare from Omaha," Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally said.

"Before we continue development on the Dreamliner, however, we felt we needed an accurate assessment of a realistic passenger evacuation scenario... and this way, inelegant as it may seem, gave us that data."

There are unofficial reports the study was, in fact, commissioned by the Dallas-based LCC, as the airline looks ahead to replacing its fleet of Boeing 737s and possible overseas expansion, upon repeal of the Wright Amendment.

Sources within the Boeing supplier network, however, said Northwest Airlines -- one of only two domestic carriers to have Dreamliners on their order books (the other is Continental) -- requested the evacuation drill, in order to ascertain (theoretically, of course) how a typical compliment of passengers from Northwest's hub in Minneapolis would be able to evacuate a Dreamliner that was recently serviced by nonunion mechanics.

While Boeing said the tests met internal expectations and would not be repeated in the near future, the less-than-stellar results come as a disappointment to the company -- especially as rival Airbus conducted a successful evacuation of its upcoming A380 superjumbo last weekend, deplaning 873 passengers in less than 80 seconds.

While one "evacuee" suffered a broken leg in the ordeal, and 32 others suffered minor injuries, not one of the handpicked members of Toulouse gymnasiums and dance troupes was killed in the A380 test.

"I knew we shouldn't have allowed those Southwest passengers who had to buy two seats to get their fat butts here from Omaha," said one Boeing source close to the exercise.

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.jennycraig.com

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