The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first carbon-composite airliner, flew to Hong Kong from Tokyo carrying its first paying passengers this week.
Hailed as a defining moment in air travel, the Dreamliner does not fly any faster than its predecessor, but is designed instead to make its flying hours more pleasant for passengers and cheaper to fly for owners.
The Dreamliner that flew this week with 240 passengers is owned by All Nippon Airways. Production hiccups delayed delivery of the aircraft for three years. Its cabin builders promise a flight with ambient lighting engineered to lull passengers to sleep.
With its mostly carbon-composite body, Boeing’s technological flagship offers a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency and a 30% reduction in maintenance costs.
Passengers were toasted with sake at the boarding gate and fire trucks doused the plane ceremonially as it taxied for take-off.
Boeing says the jet represents a revolution in air travel. But, unlike Airbus' giant A380, the 787 is no bigger than many other conventional aircraft.
“Carbon fibre is very light, but very strong” said Boeing's Scott Fancher who added that “we’ve been able to build a plane that can withstand the loads in flight, but that burns 20% less fuel”.
Environmentalists hope that this will translate into an overall reduction in carbon emissions but several airlines have indicated a lower fuel bill will allow them to put on more flights.
Critics have raised questions about the safety of carbon fibre in severe turbulence but Boeing dismisses them as 'nonsense'. The plane was certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration after 20 months of testing.
Boeing also says the 787 will give passengers more comfortable travel.
Features include windows that dim at the touch of a button, LED mood lighting, and noticeably quieter engines.
But the plane's exterior is again the key. Carbon fibre is stronger than metal and does not rust. That allows more cabin pressure and greater humidity.