The first 787 Dreamliner to go into service landed in Japan on Wednesday, greeted by media, excited plane spotters and high hopes that Boeing's gamble on a midsized, lightweight aircraft will pay off.
The plane -- painted in the blue and white All Nippon Airways livery with red highlights -- touched down at Tokyo's Haneda airport shortly after 9 a.m. local time, three years after it was originally promised to ANA.
The delivery comes after a string of technical mishaps and delays that have cost Chicago-based Boeing billions of dollars in lost or cancelled orders and seen it give ground to fierce rival Airbus.
But Shinichiro Ito, president and CEO of ANA, who travelled on the aircraft from the United States after receiving it from Boeing, declared himself "delighted" with "the aircraft's first touchdown ... after a trouble-free flight."
A Game-Changer for Boeing?
Boeing says the twin-aisle 787's construction, partly from lightweight composite materials, means it consumes 20% less fuel than comparable planes, an attractive proposition for airlines facing soaring fuel costs.
The company also has been touting the larger windows, bigger luggage storage bins and greater cabin humidity than conventional jets, a factor it says will reduce passenger fatigue.
"It is an honor to have participated in a historic program for ANA and I have been extremely moved," pilot Hideaki Hayakawa told a news conference following the arrival.
"I feel there is a potential that the aircraft will make changes in the aviation industry," Hayakawa said, citing its fuel economy, cost performance and comfort.
The windows are 30% larger than those on the similar-sized Boeing 767 and have an electric sunshade function that enables passengers to control the amount of sunlight coming in at the touch of a button.
One of the plane's more striking features are the toilets, which are equipped with electric seats with a bidet function commonly found across Japan but not usually on international flights.
"The bidet toilets are actually an option for ANA. But this is something that obviously Japanese customers are used to having at their home," said Rob Henderson, communications director at Boeing Japan.
"So I suppose what we could say is that flying in the air is now an experience that's much closer to their homes than it would have been before," Henderson said.
A Big Bet by Boeing and ANA
The 787 represents a big bet by Boeing on cutting-edge technology and materials for commercial aircraft.
The midsized, long-haul plane -- which has an average list price of $202 million -- is crucial to the company's future. It is the firm's first new design in more than a decade, drawing on huge advances in aviation technology.
With seating for up to 330 passengers, the 787 is Boeing's gamble that airlines will demand midsize aircraft, rather than planes in the category of the mammoth A380, Airbus's star.
Its development has been far from smooth -- ANA originally had been told to expect the first of its 55 ordered planes in early 2008.
But Boeing says that by the end of July this year, it had 827 of the new aircraft on order from dozens of carriers and leasing companies around the world.
ANA president Ito said the new fleet of 787s will play a "key part" in his plans for international expansion.
The Japanese carrier is planning to begin the world's first commercial 787 service on the Tokyo to Hong Kong route in October, followed by regular flights to Beijing and Frankfurt.
ANA, in common with other high-end carriers, is facing increasing competition from budget airlines and is banking on the 787 to boost demand and cut costs.
The company was hit particularly hard by the impact of Japan's March 11 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, which suffocated the nation's tourist industry and crimped domestic demand.
It logged a group operating loss of 8.1 billion yen ($106.1 million) in April-June and responded by cutting services and using smaller planes to cope with the post-quake drop in passenger numbers.