Dreamliner carries its first passengers and Boeing's hopes

Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:17am EDT
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By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Boeing Co Dreamliner, the world's first carbon-composite airliner, flew to Hong Kong from Tokyo carrying its first paying passengers on Wednesday in a flight that could set a new benchmark in air travel.

Its takeoff into clear blue skies after a salute and shower by an airport fire truck came exactly 53 years after Boeing's first ever jetliner, the 707, began commercial services in the Pan Am colors.

The Dreamliner does not fly any faster than that first aircraft, but it is not supposed to. Instead, it is designed to make the hours aloft more pleasant for passengers and cheaper to fly for owners battling for profit amid the rise of low cost carriers.

The Dreamliner that flew Wednesday with 240 passengers is owned by All Nippon Airways Co and a jubilant Shinichiro Ito, the airline's president and CEO, described his brand new plane as a "game changer."

He acknowledged, however, that production hiccups that delayed delivery for three years had put his carrier "through hard times".

With its mostly carbon-composite body, Boeing's technological flagship offers a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and a 30 percent reduction in maintenance costs.

Its cabin builders promise a flight with ambient lighting engineered to lull passengers to sleep. The cabin also boasts higher air pressure that will make the interior feel like 6,000 feet rather than the 8,000 feet on other jetliners.

Passengers on ANA's jet were treated to shifting hues of color, including a rainbow display as the aircraft lifted off from the tarmac in Tokyo, its engines a gentle whistle. The quiet engines and greater cabin air pressure might create a new problem in air travel: making conversations of fellow passengers easy to hear.   Continued...

<p>An All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft taxis on the runway after landing at Hong Kong Airport October 26, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>