Dreamliner takes flight

Boeing’s 787 started its first commercial flight today, ending more than three years of delays, with operator All Nippon Airways saying a wider cabin and bigger windows will help give customers a more comfortable ride.

Flight NH7871, carrying paying passengers and more than 40 journalists, took off at 12.23pm, Japanese time, from Tokyo’s Narita airport and is scheduled to touch down in Hong Kong about four-and-a-half hours later. The 264-seat aircraft will return tomorrow.

Tokyo-based All Nippon sold two business-class seats on the 787, known as the Dreamliner, for about $18,600 in a charity auction to help promote the introduction of the first aircraft largely built from carbon-fibre reinforced materials. The new lightweight technology will reduce fuel costs while also supporting changes designed to improve passenger comfort, including 30 per cent bigger windows and higher cabin pressure.

Dreamliner finally flies for real

The Boeing Dreamliner 787, the world's first carbon-composite airliner, makes its first flight with paying passengers.

‘‘The adoption of a largely composite structure is a breakthrough,’’ said Nick Cunningham, an aerospace analyst at Agency Partners in London. ‘‘It means you can fly between city-pairs that weren’t an economic proposition before, and it should offer benefits for passengers.’’

Struggles with the new materials contributed to Boeing delaying the aircraft’s entry into service seven times since 2007. The Chicago-based planemaker was also held up by a greater reliance on subcontractors.

Wider cabin

The cabin of the 787 is 75 centimetres wider than a 767 and is fitted with bigger luggage compartments and energy-saving light-emitting diode lights, according to All Nippon. The plane also has windows as much as 47 centimetres high and 28 centimetres wide as the composite materials are able to support larger openings than traditional airframes.

‘‘It’s a great chance for ANA’s growth,’’ ANA President Shinichiro Ito told reporters in Tokyo.  ‘‘We want the 787 to help us in our dream of being the No. 1 airline in Asia.’’

The composite construction also means that the plane is able to support higher cabin-pressure levels than on traditional planes with weaker airframes. That means that the environment is similar to being at 6000 feet high rather than at 8000 feet, which passengers find more comfortable, 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.’’

Delivery schedule

ANA has ordered a total of 55 Dreamliners, making it the biggest airline customer. So far, it has received two of the planes and it will get another nine before the end of March, Ito told reporters today before takeoff. That’s one less than the carrier previous expected. It will still have 20 by the end of March 2013, he said.

The plane is due to become the main aircraft in ANA’s fleet, helping to generate fuel savings of as much as 10 billion yen ($126 million) a year. The aircraft is 20 per cent more fuel-efficient than comparably sized jets because of the composites and an all-electric system that doesn’t divert air from the engines for power, according to Boeing.

The planemaker had 821 Dreamliner orders at the end of last month from customers including Air China, British Airways and Delta Air Lines. Japan Airlines has 35 on order, which it will use to start a Tokyo-Boston service from April.

The 787 tally included 15 from China Eastern Airlines Corp., which have now been swapped for 737s. The Shanghai-based company said that delays were part of the reason for the switch. China Southern Airlines, Asia’s largest carrier by passenger numbers, has also said it may cancel its 10 on-order 787s after deliveries were postponed to next year.

Airbus A350

Airbus SAS, the biggest maker of commercial aircraft, has responded to the Dreamliner’s introduction by adding the A350, due to enter service by the end of 2013. The European company aims to begin assembling the first plane by the year’s end.

ANA sold packages on the Hong Kong charter trips from 78,700 yen (about $990), including accommodation. The plane has 252 seats in economy class and 12 in business. Aircraft for long-haul flights will be fitted with 158 seats.

The carrier plans to introduce the aircraft on regular scheduled services on November 1, beginning with flights from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Okayama and Hiroshima. Routes to China will commence in December, followed by services to Frankfurt in January. The airplane may eventually be used on flights to Switzerland and Belgium, Ito said today.