Boeing's Dreamliner begins first commercial flight

Oct 26 2011

Boeing's Dreamliner has finally taken off on its maiden commercial voyage, three years later than planned.

The All Nippon Airlines (ANA) flight is carrying its first passengers from Tokyo to Hong Kong.

The Dreamliner had originally been scheduled for delivery in 2008, but Boeing has suffered a string of setbacks.

Wednesday's flight is a special charter, with normal services due to start in November.

Problems with the Dreamliner have put its launch behind schedule, the latest being an onboard fire during test flights in January, and the company will hope a successful launch will help put to bed some of the memories of prior setbacks.

Boeing says the twin-aisle, mid-size plane features the industry's largest windows, with higher cabin humidity and cleaner air - all of which combine to allow passengers to arrive at their destinations more refreshed.

Because of the materials used in construction - carbon fibre rather than aluminium - Boeing says the Dreamliner is about 20% more fuel efficient than similarly-sized models flying today.

That would be a big help for airlines coping with the high price of jet fuel, which is usually their biggest single cost.

ANA's chief Shinichiro Ito and Boeing vice-president Scott Fancher broke open barrels of sake with small hammers and passed it around to passengers as they boarded in Tokyo.

The airline auctioned six business-class seats on the inaugural flight, with one selling for $34,000 (£21,200) - around 13 times the price of a regular business-class ticket between the two Asian hubs.

The winner, Gino Bertuccio, won because he accidentally added an extra digit onto his bid - but he was happy regardless.

"Just thinking I'm going to be part of aviation history is a dream," he told the Wall Street Journal.

'Cost competitiveness'

Another passenger was part of a small group of fliers who try to fly on the first flights of major new planes.

Thomas Lee, a 59-year-old Californian who also flew on the maiden commercial flights of the Boeing 747 in 1970 and the Airbus A380 superjumbo in 2007.

Boeing plans to make 10 of the planes a month from 2013. But the long delay has hurt its business.

Last week, China Eastern Airlines cancelled orders for 24 Dreamliners, rather than wait for production to pick up.

Japan, a market in which Boeing dominates rival Airbus, is a major market for the Dreamliner.

ANA will take delivery of dozens more of the aircraft in the coming years.

"For carriers with high operating margins, the 787 is critical for gaining a cost competitiveness," said Masaharu Hirokane, an analyst at Nomura Holding in Tokyo.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2011 BBC


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