Boeing’s first-ever Dreamliner flight was 10 years ago this week

Dec 16, 2019

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It was ten years ago this past weekend that Boeing’s 787 took to the skies for the first time ever. The jet’s maiden flight happened on Dec. 15, 2009, though it would not enter regular passenger service until about two years later.

The Dreamliner, as the jet is also known, was the first to be made primarily of carbon composites. Despite being slow to enter service because of production issues, the 787 has been become one of the world’s most-popular aircraft for overseas flying. It has led to new, direct international routes between smaller markets that previously required multi-leg itineraries.

Carbon composite airplanes like the 787 can also be kept at higher humidity and cabin pressure as compared to their traditional aluminum counterparts, meaning many passengers find the planes more comfortable.

The first passenger flights were operated by All Nippon Airways on Oct. 26, 2011, on a special one-time charter from Tokyo (NRT) to Hong Kong. The plane entered normal commercial service in November of that year.

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All Nippon Airways (ANA) ground crew wave goodbye to the company's first commercial flight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its departure for Hong Kong on October 26, 2011 at Narita Airport in Chiba prefecture, suburban Tokyo. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner was to make its first commercial flight, giving a handful of deep-pocketed passengers the chance to fly into history on what is touted as an aviation breakthrough. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)
All Nippon Airways (ANA) ground crew wave goodbye to the company’s first commercial flight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its departure for Hong Kong on October 26, 2011 at Narita Airport. (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images.)

Boeing’s 787 entered service just a few years after the Airbus A380, putting the two manufacturers’ conflicting strategies into stark relief. Boeing bet on airlines favoring smaller wide-bodies that could fly “long thin” routes — flights that would be difficult to profitably serve with bigger jets. Airbus favored the idea of huge jets flying between major airports, concluding in part that its “superjumbo” would appeal to carriers looking to increase capacity to slot-restricted airports like London Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and New York JFK.

(Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In the end, airlines saw more potential for the Dreamliner than for the A380. The latter will soon be out of production, and Airbus’ new composite A350 began commercial service in 2015, giving airlines a new Airbus option to go up against Boeing’s 787 and 777.

Although the 787 has had some issues in its first decade — most notably lithium ion battery issues that led to an early worldwide grounding as well as some ongoing problems with its Rolls Royce Trent engines — it’s been a successful aircraft in the market. Just as Boeing promised, the aircraft has helped open numerous new routes that would have been difficult to profitably serve with bigger jets. Some notable Dreamliner routes added in recent years include Chicago O’Hare-Krakow on LOT Polish Airlines; Perth to London on Qantas; and London Heathrow-Charleston, South Carolina, on British Airways.

(Photo courtesy of United)
(Photo courtesy of United)

Nearly 1,000 787s have come off the production line, according to FlightRadar24. ANA is the largest Dreamliner operator with 71 in its fleet, but American Airlines, United Airlines, Japan Airlines and Air Canada and Etihad each count more than three dozen, according to the manufacturer.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

This story was updated to reflect the correct number of 787s that have been produced. 

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