All aboard Boeing's 787 Dreamliner (Q&A)

Chris Sloan, a longtime aviation writer, snagged one of the extremely rare tickets for ANA's inaugural passenger flight of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. He shared the experience.

All Nippon Airways crew members welcome the first passengers aboard the inaugural ANA 787 Dreamliner flight. Airchive.com/2C Media,Chris Sloan

After years of waiting, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is finally flying passengers .

With an All Nippon Airways charter flight yesterday from Tokyo to Hong Kong the Dreamliner commercial era began, and not a moment too soon.

As anyone who follows aviation knows, the new airplane is one of the most anticipated in history, largely because it is made from composite materials and promises airline customers better fuel efficiency than almost any other plane in the sky. But while excitement for the aircraft is high, there is also a lot of eyes on it because of the fact that it has been delayed for years due to a wide variety of reasons including strikes, on-board fires, supply shortages, and more.

But while the first passenger flight was supposed to happen more than three years ago, people have not lost their enthusiasm for the plane. When Boeing formally handed over the first Dreamliner to ANA at a ceremony last month , thousands of employees, press, and other aviation fans turned out to cheer the event.

And at 12:42 p.m. Tuesday, ANA flight 7871 took off from Tokyo. Hours later, the plane landed to a large, raucous welcome.

On board was a large collection of company employees, journalists, and other VIPs. One of the passengers was Chris Sloan, an aviation writer who was covering the first flight for Airways magazine and Airchive.com. Sloan talked to CNET about the experience.

Q: You were able to be on the first Dreamliner commercial flight. What was that like?
Sloan: It was being a part of flying history. This is the biggest leap forward in commercial aviation since the first regular service of commercial jets came on line in the late 1950s. This was a party and celebratory atmosphere, a reunion of friends and colleagues, and was very much sought after due to the [scarcity] of the tickets. Besides the 248 press, VIPs, executives, and Japanese residency passengers, there were only three seats available for the auction. Compared to the A380 inaugural, this was even more special and rare due to the fewer number of seats. I also must say the pride and perfect service from the ANA crews was noteworthy. Boeing and ANA had a long and difficult journey getting to this moment, and they deserved to celebrate even though the poor cabin crew could barely move around do to the festive nature or cocktail party [atmosphere].

How excited were you to be on the flight prior to getting on board?
Sloan: This was an 18-month pursuit for me. I have written many articles on the plane for Airways and Airchive.com and I'm very informed and excited about the plane. I had flown the inaugural A380 passenger flight four years ago. But to be on the first Dreamliner was incredible, and next to the days I was married, and my two sons were born, it was the most exciting moment of my life.

Tell me some of your impressions of the plane: What was special? What was not?
Sloan: I wanted to feel for myself all of the cutting-edge features: lower pressurized and higher humidified cabin, the large windows with electronic shading, LED multi-color lighting, the turbulence gust suppression systems, the noxious air and gas filtration systems, etc. The weather was perfect so I wasn't able to test for turbulence and some of the other features like humidified cabins and pressurized cabin come more into play on the long-haul flights, but all the other features--including the higher humidified cabin which left my eyes moist when they usually dry out, but especially the giant windows which let in massive amounts of lights and views no matter where you sat in the plane were very impressive. One unexpected thing was the self-closing toilet seat lid which saves 50 percent in water and therefore weight, and is another contributing factor to the game-changing fuel efficiency. I was unaware of this feature and it reminded me how Boeing had really thought of everything.

Based on your experience, how much of a draw will the Dreamliner be to passengers who can choose between the 787 and other planes when both are flying similar routes?
Sloan: It will be a draw in the long run as it will create a more sustainable profitable industry with reduced fuel costs and maintenance costs, which will keep fares down. On the long-haul flights particularly, when you compare this to the current Airbus A330/340s and Boeing 767-300s, passengers will immediately notice the difference. There isn't the immediate superficial wow factor of the massive A380, but this aircraft will have a much more profound contribution.

And how much of a success do you think the Dreamliner will be for Boeing and for the airlines that fly it?
Sloan: For airlines, this will be an absolute money-making and game-changing aircraft from day one. For Boeing, it will set the stage and be the platform for aircraft for the next 50 years. It is already the world's fastest-selling commercial airliner with 800-plus units sold. Though it will take a few years to get up to production speed, and though it was delayed over three years, and though it might take until the late part of this decade to be profitable...Boeing will be rewarded in the long term, and see its credibility restored.

Any other thoughts that stand out upon landing?
Sloan: The buttery smooth landing and the exotic Hong Kong welcoming ceremony replete with dragon dancer in a romantic and exotic place such as Hong Kong was the cherry on the proverbial cake as I was fortunate enough to be a small part of commercial aviation thanks to a courageous airline and airplane manufacturer.

Also one other thing: My grandparents were on the first jet Pan Am Boeing 707 inaugural on Oct 26, 1958, from New York Idlewild (now JFK) to Paris Orly. I was always mesmerized by my grandfather's pictures and stories. He was a big inspiration to me and this is a way of continuing on the tradition. My sons are now into aviation and I hope they do the same--in space!

 

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