Boeing Co.’s 787 landed in Japan early today to start a weeklong dress rehearsal with All Nippon Airways Co., signaling the end is near on a delay of more than three years for the world’s first composite-plastic jet.
The Dreamliner, which landed at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, will make test flights on ANA’s normal domestic routes, with pilots and mechanics from both companies working alongside each other. The exercise will ensure the plane can fit into airport parking slots and use boarding bridges and fuel hoses, said Megumi Tezuka, an airline spokeswoman.
“It’s been a long wait,” said Hidetaka Sakai, an ANA spokesman who watched today’s landing. “We want to compete with global air companies with this plane.”
The trip is one of the final validations ahead of the 787’s entry into service as soon as next month. Boeing missed the original May 2008 delivery target, stalling its ability to book profit from a model with an average list price of $202 million and forcing customers to reshuffle their plans.
“People are going to be happy to see the plane arrive in Japan,” said Ryota Himeno, an analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. in Tokyo. “The key will be when demand for air travel rebounds.”
ANA, Asia’s largest listed airline by sales, suffered a 20 percent drop in domestic travel in April, the month after a record earthquake and tsunami disrupted air service in the country and led to the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
The Tokyo-based carrier is counting on the twin-engine Dreamliner to help add flights to China, Europe and the U.S. while paring fuel costs. Japan Airlines Co., which has 35 of the 787s on order, has said it will start service to Boston from Tokyo with the jet next year, the first direct link between the city and Asia.
Crews from Chicago-based Boeing began tests for extended operations and function and reliability this week as they work toward flight certification by U.S. and Japanese authorities.
Boeing and ANA plan joint tests starting July 5, with flights between Tokyo’s Haneda and Osaka’s Itami airports, as well as Okayama, Hiroshima and Osaka’s Kansai. The companies scripted the trials to the half hour in meetings that ran seven hours a day for five days, according to Boeing’s website.
The service-ready testing “is more about the system working than the airplane,” said Lori Gunter, a Boeing spokeswoman in Everett, Washington, where the Dreamliners are assembled. “It’s about ANA being ready to operate and Boeing being ready to support.”
For Boeing, getting the Dreamliner into service this quarter would end a series of seven postponements that led to late penalties and analysts dubbing the company’s fastest-selling plane the “7-Late-7.” Boeing’s 27 percent slide from the initial, October 2007 delay through June 30 was almost twice the drop for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
The 787 is the first airliner with a fuselage and wings made of composite-plastic materials instead of aluminum. The new materials and manufacturing system, along with parts shortages and other problems, hampered development. Suppliers around the world build whole sections and fly them to Everett.
The Dreamliner also is the first with all-electric operating systems that, along with the lighter-weight plastic, promise to shave fuel usage by 20 percent compared with similar-sized planes and let it fly farther than a 747 jumbo jet. Boeing marketed the 210- to 250-seat Dreamliner for long-haul routes not busy enough to fill a larger aircraft.
ANA plans to use its 55 Dreamliners on order to replace the similar-sized Boeing 767 in the airline’s fleet, beginning with domestic routes. The carrier’s initial order for 50 jets in 2004 was valued at $6 billion at list prices.
“We’re very excited,” said Tezuka, the ANA spokeswoman. “We’re confident we will get the delivery of our first plane soon.”
ANA is already preparing its staff to receive the plane, which Boeing has promised will happen in the third quarter. Two of the carrier’s pilots tested the plane on a U.S. flight in May 2010, and 10 more who will be the first crews to operate it in Japan completed their training last month.
Boeing has done some tests with employees serving in the role of passengers, Gunter said. The first Dreamliner began flying in December 2009, and seven jets have made more than 1,500 flights around the world since, looking for severe weather and other conditions to test the plane to its limits.
Several hundred plane spotters braved an early Sunday wakeup to witness the Dreamliner’s 6:21 a.m. touchdown at Haneda.
“I felt cool and calm as we landed this morning,” said ANA pilot Masayuki Ishii. “But when I saw so many people had come out to the airport to catch a glimpse of the plane, I was moved.”
The 787 last month made an appearance at the Paris Air Show where Boeing let aviation executives, analysts and reporters onto the jet to show off its new interior features such as dimming windows and LED lighting.
The rehearsal is “big news in Japan,” said Ken Herbert, an analyst with Wedbush Securities in San Francisco. “You get the ground staff and everyone all excited about it, and it’ll get a big buzz.”