GROTTAGLIE, Italy — OK, I know this is a round-the-world trip, but I didn’t think we were going to stop at every single airport along the way.
The original plan for the Boeing 787 supplier tour was for us to leave Charleston, S.C., on Monday evening, flying directly across the Atlantic to Italy, with a quick stop for fuel in the Azores, a mid-ocean island group belonging to Portugal.
But on boy, Alberto. The tropical storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico forced our flight crew to divert north across the North Atlantic. We flew up the East Caost, then had to stop for fuel before heading east.
And that’s how I happened to call my sister-in-law from Gander, Newfoundland.
“New-fool-what?” she asked.
It was a good night for Canada’s far eastern outpost. The storm forced all the flights from the Middle East to North America to divert north, along wit ha lot of business jets, like ours. As a result, more jets than usual were stopping in Gander for fuel.
The airport staff cheerfully openend the duty-free shop for us. Gigi the flight attendant quickly stocked up on supplies for cocktails, while the rest of us snapped up souvenirs from this out-of-the-way outpost and marveled at Newfoundland’s unusual time zone, which is 90 minutes ahead of New York’s.
(Don’t tell my niece, but I got her a T-shirt with a picture of a moose on it.)
With the 787, Boeing says it’s trying to bring back the adventure of flying. With this trip it’s succeeding.
The problem is that our 1960s-vintage 727 doesn’t have the range to fly across oceans. We’ve got to make fuel stops.
When I finally got to sleep last night, curled up on a sofa in the business jet’s conference room, there was a distinct chance we were going to have to land in Ireland to top up with fuel unless we got favorable tail winds. Apparently we did, because when I awoke about four hours later, we were over the Alps, which are very pretty in the morning sun.
We got of the plane at Brindisi, Italy, on the Adriatic Coast, and piled into a tiny bus for the 45-minute drive to Grottaglie, Italy, where we had lunch with the top executives of Alenia Aeronautica, one of Boeing’s big 787 partners.
Business lunches in Italy are an American human resources manager’s nightmare, with gorgeous young women in impossibly short skirts serving wine to executives and guests in the company cafeteria.
Our lunch ended with a glass of Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine not unlike Champagne), which was an oddly elegant touch considering our traveling party looked exactly as disheveled as you’d expect from a bunch of people who had slept in their clothes on an airplane.
I’ll say this about the Italians, though — they’ve got style.
The new Alenia factory in Grottaglie looks more like a facility with industrial styling than an actual industrial facility. It’s all skylights and exposed steel and bright, white, blue and yellow paint.
And why not? asked architect Julian Vertefeuille, proudly showing off his firm’s design work. He maintains that people work better when surrounded by beautiful things.
The adventure continues this morning, when we leave for Japan on a flight so long we won’t arrive until Thursday. We’re flying across China on our way to Japan. But the Chinese authorities haven’t given us permission to land. Our 727, with its stubby legs, doesn’t have the range of the new Boeing Dreamliner, so we can’t carry enough fuel to fly across China, unless we goet a 40-knot wind.
IF we don’t get a favorable wind, we’ll have to divert around China, stopping in both Oman and Thailand for fuel. I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, I’ve never been to either country, so it would be fun to stop and at least look around the airport fuel dock.
On the other hand, if we fly across China we get to Nagoya four hours earlier, which means I’ll get to shower, change and maybe find some strong tea before we start our tours of new jet factories.
After today, I’m hoping for the shower.
Herald aerospace writer Bryan Corliss is on a worldwide tour of companies that are major partners in assembly the Boeing Co.’s new 787.
Originally published June 14, 2006, in The Daily Herald of Everett, Wash.