HIGLY PUBLICISED as a unique selling point for Boeing’s newest widebody, electrochromic dimming technology was meant to showcase the B787’s roots in the 21st century of plane-making. With the Dreamliner now in service for just over a year, the electronic dimming function is causing headaches for airlines and passengers alike.
Passenger experience has suffered as a result of the technology. Faulty devices have meant passengers have been unable to block out sunlight for entire flights. Furthermore, the entire cycle from transparent to opaque is cumbersome, taking over 30 seconds to transition, as opposed to the instant results of a normal shade. Even when functioning and in the fully dimmed position, the device fails to carry out its primary objective.
Replacing a traditional blind with an electronic one has also affected the thermodynamics of the window. As with any dark object subjected to solar radiation, when tinted, the window heats up to uncomfortable levels for any passengers in close proximity.
By contrast, the technology does hold some operational merit, as identified by Flight Attendants. The ability to operate a master control ensures that all windows are transparent at the necessary periods of flight, including take off and landing; this contributes to the overall safety of the flight.
Japanese launch customer ANA are reportedly studying various options with regard to the window issues, spanning from the use of stick-on shades to a full retrofit to bring back traditional window-shades. And whilst the technology will continue to be used on all B787s, it remains to be seen whether it will feature on any newer aircraft. Airbus will not offer the product in its standard configuration A350, though it may still be offered as an option. Boeing have not stated whether the technology will be implemented on its B737Max or B777x projects. Bombardier has also snubbed the feature on its Cseries.
All signs point towards electronic dimming windows remaining an exclusive gimmick to the Boeing 787. What is clear is that the technology has a lot of issues that need addressing before the component is employed on more commercial airliners.