Less than five years after Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) took delivery of the first 787 Dreamliner, the airline on Wednesday accepted its 50th.
While Boeing last week cited “softness” in the wide-body jet market and lowered expectations about near-term demand for the 787, ANA’s milestone allowed the jet maker to celebrate the success of the Dreamliner in passenger service.
Hideki Kunugi, senior vice president of ANA Americas, said the airplane’s fuel efficiency — 20 percent better than the 767 it replaced — is today saving the airline about $98 million per year.
“The 787 plays a vital role” in the airline’s plans to expand its international network, he said.
The economics of the midsize, long-range jet have allowed ANA to open up long-haul routes not only to giant hubs like New York and Los Angeles but also to mid-size cities.
Hence its nonstop flights from Tokyo to Düsseldorf, Germany, and Brussels, as well as Seattle and San Jose, Calif.
“Without the Dreamliner, Seattle and San Jose would not be possible,” Kunugi said.
To get to this point, ANA suffered through a turbulent early ride.
After working closely with Boeing on the design of the airplane, then giving the jet maker its launch order in 2004, ANA got its first delivery in September 2011 — three years and four months late.
Just over a year after the jet entered service, a main battery started smoking aboard one of ANA’s planes in flight, and the airline endured with all other 787 operators the grounding of the entire Dreamliner fleet for more than three months.
But the battery problem was fixed, and Boeing has now delivered 447 Dreamliners to 39 airlines.
As of July, more than 108 million passengers have flown on more than 569,000 Dreamliner flights.
Opening new routes
ANA now flies the 787 on 40 percent of its international routes, and it plans to open more routes to previously unserved destinations.
In September, it will introduce the 787 between Tokyo and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Next February, it will fly the jet nonstop between Tokyo an Mexico City, which on the northbound leg takes more than 14 hours.
Kunuga said the opening up of Mexico City “is only possible thanks to the 787, which can operate such long-haul routes with greater comfort and efficiency than any other aircraft.”
The airline sees this route as “a first very important step” to expanding connections to Central and South America.
Last week, Boeing Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith — citing the marked lack of orders in the wide-body jet market recently — for the first time publicly admitted that Boeing may not increase the 787 production rate from its current 12 jets per month to the planned 14 per month toward the end of the decade.
At the delivery ceremony Wednesday, Boeing’s senior vice president of sales for northeast Asia, Ihssane Mounir, said that despite the general softness in demand, China remains a bright spot that offers hope of buoyant future sales.
“China will continue to drive the demand,” he said. “I’m not seeing any signs of weakness whatsoever.”
ANA has 33 more Dreamliners on order, including three of the largest model, the 787-10, which is scheduled to enter service in 2018.
It anticipates 40 percent growth in revenue from its international routes during the next four years, in an expansion leading up to and preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The plane delivered to ANA on Wednesday is the 787-9 that Boeing test pilots flew last month in the daily aerial displays at the Farnborough Air Show in England.
(Dominic Gates - Seattle Times)