Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner completed its first commercial flight Wednesday after more than three years of delays, with operator All Nippon Airways Co. touting the increased comfort for passengers from the wider cabin and bigger windows.
Flight NH7871, carrying paying passengers and more than 40 journalists, took off from Tokyo’s Narita airport at 12:45 p.m. before touching down in Hong Kong about 4½ hours later. The 264-seat aircraft will return to Japan on Thursday.
Tokyo-based ANA sold two business-class seats on the Dreamliner for about $18,600 in a charity auction to help promote the introduction of the first aircraft built largely from carbon fiber reinforced materials. The new lightweight technology will reduce fuel costs, while enabling a design that boosts passenger comfort, including 30 percent bigger windows and higher cabin pressure.
“The adoption of a largely composite structure is a breakthrough,” said Nick Cunningham, an aerospace analyst at Agency Partners LLP in London. “It means you can fly between city-pairs that weren’t an economic proposition before, and it should offer benefits for passengers.”
Difficulties with the new materials contributed to Boeing delaying the aircraft’s entry into service seven times since 2007. The Chicago-based plane maker was also held up by a greater reliance on subcontractors.
The Dreamliner’s cabin is 75 cm wider than a Boeing 767 and is fitted with bigger luggage compartments and energy-saving LEDs, according to ANA. The aircraft also has windows up to 47 cm high and 28 cm wide, as the composite materials are able to support larger openings than traditional airframes.
“It was bright and very spacious,” ANA President Shinichiro Ito told reporters in Tokyo on Oct. 20, while describing his first flight on the plane. “I could also feel clearly it was a very quiet airliner.”
The composites also mean the plane is able to support higher cabin pressure levels than on traditional planes with weaker airframes. That means passengers feel like their flying at a more comfortable 6,000 feet rather than at 8,000 feet, according to ANA’s website.
“It means standing on top of hill rather than a mountain,” said Cunningham. “That should reduce effects like fatigue when flying.”
Boeing had 821 orders for the Dreamliner at the end of last month from customers including Air China Ltd., British Airways and Delta Air Lines Inc. Japan Airlines Corp. has 35 on order, which it will use to start a Tokyo-Boston service from April.
The 787 tally includes 15 from China Eastern Airlines Corp. that have been canceled and swapped with 737s instead. The Shanghai-based company said that delays were part of the reason for the switch. China Southern Airlines Co., Asia’s largest carrier by passenger numbers, has also said it may cancel the 10 Dreamliners it has ordered, after deliveries were postponed to next year.
Airbus SAS, the biggest maker of commercial aircraft, has responded to the Dreamliner’s introduction by adding the A350 to its lineup. The A350 is due to enter service by the end of 2013, and the European company aims to begin assembling the first plane by the year’s end.
ANA, which has a total of 55 Dreamliners on order, sold packages on the Hong Kong charter trips from ¥78,700, including accommodations. The carrier plans to introduce the aircraft on regular scheduled services from Nov. 1, beginning with flights from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures. Routes to China will commence in December, followed by services to Frankfurt in January.
The 787 is due to become the main plane in ANA’s fleet, helping to generate fuel savings of as much as ¥10 billion a year. The plane is 20 percent more fuel-efficient than jets of a comparable size because of the composites and an all-electric system that doesn’t divert air from the engines for power, according to Boeing.
ANA’s first Dreamliner is fitted with 252 seats in economy class and 12 in business. Aircraft for long-haul flights will be fitted with 158 seats. The airline has so far received two 787s, with 10 more due to be delivered by the end of March.
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