, HONG KONG, Oct 26 – Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight on Wednesday, giving a handful of deep-pocketed passengers the chance to fly into history on what is touted as an aviation breakthrough.
The lightweight, fuel-efficient 787 is the first mid-sized plane able to fly long-haul. But critics had said it might never take off as its development ran three years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
With corporate VIPs and excited members of the public aboard, the All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight departed from Tokyo’s Narita airport bound for Hong Kong, where it was scheduled to land around 0830 GMT.
Wearing traditional Japanese jackets, ANA chief Shinichiro Ito and Boeing vice president Scott Fancher broke open barrels of sake with small hammers and handed the wine to passengers before they all embarked at Narita.
ANA, the Dreamliner’s launch airline, auctioned six business-class seats on the inaugural flight, with one selling for $34,000 — around 13 times the price of a regular business-class ticket between Tokyo and Hong Kong.
The winner of the eBay auction was 48-year-old Miami businessman Gino Bertuccio, according to the Wall Street Journal, which said he had mistyped his maximum bid amount but was still enthralled at being on the flight.
The newspaper said another delighted passenger was Thomas Lee, a 59-year-old California executive who flew on the maiden commercial flights of the Boeing 747 in 1970 and the Airbus A380 superjumbo in 2007.
Touting the 787’s green credentials, ANA said proceeds from the online auction would go to international environmental groups.
ANA also sold 100 economy-class seats as part of a tour package including one night at a hotel in Hong Kong for 78,700 yen ($1,000) per adult.
At travel agencies in Japan, a discount ANA return economy ticket on the route in late October costs around 45,000 yen.
Painted in the blue and white ANA livery with red highlights, the first Dreamliner was delivered on September 28, three years after it was originally promised to the airline.
Production delays and technical mishaps cost US-based Boeing billions of dollars in lost or cancelled orders, giving an edge to its fierce European rival Airbus.
But Ito, the ANA president, who travelled on the 330-seat jet from the United States after receiving it from Boeing, declared himself “delighted” with the aircraft’s touchdown in Tokyo last month.
ANA is planning to use the 787 on regular flights to Beijing and Frankfurt, as well as Hong Kong.
In common with other high-end carriers, the Japanese airline is facing increasing competition from budget companies and is banking on the 787 to boost demand and cut costs.
Boeing says the twin-aisle 787’s construction, partly from lightweight composite materials, means it consumes 20 percent less fuel than comparable planes, an attractive proposition for airlines facing soaring fuel costs.
The Chicago-based aerospace and defence giant has also been touting the larger windows, bigger luggage storage bins and greater cabin humidity than conventional jets, a factor it says will reduce traveller fatigue.
Boeing is hoping the Dreamliner will be a hit with passengers it says want more non-stop travel, and says it is already the fastest-selling twin-aisle airplane in aviation history, with more than 800 orders since 2004.
With an average list price of $202 million, the plane is the firm’s first new design in more than a decade.