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Boeing's Dreamliner finally flies passengers

Boeing's fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner finally carried passengers on its first commercial flight, which traveled from Tokyo to Hong Kong.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner at Narita airport east of Tokyo before its first commercial flight.

TOKYO--Boeing's long-delayed 787 Dreamliner jet finally began commercial service here today, taking off from Tokyo's Narita airport at 12:42 p.m. on a charter flight to Hong Kong with some 230 passengers.

Operator All Nippon Airways (ANA) will have seven Dreamliners in its fleet by the end of December, ANA President Shinichiro Ito told those attending a press conference marking the event, which included a ceremonial breaking of a barrel of sake.

After receipt in September, ANA is the first airline to operate the plane, billed as the first to be made mostly of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. ANA will start regular 787 services November 1, linking Tokyo with regional Japanese cities Okayama and Hiroshima, and long-haul Europe services with a flight to Frankfurt on January 21.

Boeing has called the much-ballyhooed Dreamliner "the first all-new airplane of the 21st century." It's supposed to use up to 20 percent less fuel than earlier generations of Boeing jets because about half of its main structure is made of composite materials.

Japanese companies are heavily invested in the plane, providing about one-third of its parts. Toray Industries supplied the carbon fiber for the 787, while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries produced wing parts and engine combustion chambers.

But the plane's fuel-efficient construction also means significant cost savings for airlines still struggling to turn a profit amid rising fuel prices. The biggest Dreamliners will fly long hauls of 15,000 km (9,320 miles) without stopping, far enough to link New York with Hong Kong.

Boeing says it believes passengers will want to fly directly to their destination city rather than flying through hubs aboard larger planes.

"We call it the Pacific disruptor," Mike Denton, president of Boeing Japan, was quoted as saying by BBC News. "We've got a medium, twin-aisle aeroplane that can fly long routes, almost the same as a 777."

Passengers will notice a few updates to conventional airliner design. The 787's windows are 30 percent taller than those of the 767, letting more light in. Instead of pulling down a shade, the window darkens at the touch of a button. LED rainbow lighting on the ceiling is designed to provide a soothing effect.

Due to its strong construction, the Dreamliner has an internal air pressure similar to that at 6,000 feet, lower than the conventional 8,000 feet, which may reduce passenger fatigue and headaches.

The aircraft also has an array of sensors that can detect pitching and rolling during turbulence. A dampening system predicts the severity of the swaying motions and directs ailerons and auxiliary airfoils to compensate, providing a smoother ride.

The Dreamliner is also quieter, reducing the area on the ground subjected to noise above 85 dB by some 60 percent over conventional planes. There's also more storage space.

ANA has ordered a total of 55 Dreamliners and they will have Washlet toilets, a cleansing spray function that has long been the signature loo feature of Japan. You can catch a glimpse of it in the promo vid below.

Will the 787 make flying a better experience? What do you think?