The Boeing 787 took a significant step towards finally entering service after beginning a series of week-long validation tests in Japan with launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA).
Test aircraft ZA002, which was painted in ANA livery, flew direct from Seattle to Tokyo's Haneda airport with the airline's pilots, captains Masayuki Ishii and Masami Tsukamoto, and Boeing pilots, captains Mike Carriker, Heather Ross and Ted Grady on 3 July.
It started the service ready operational validation (SROV) tests with a return from Haneda to Osaka's Itami airport on 5 July, followed by flights to Osaka's Kansai airport, Okayama and Hiroshima during the rest of the week. The pilots will fly the aircraft on actual airline routes in Japan using airline dispatch and flight rules, said the companies. ANA's mechanics and ground crews also will gain experience with the aeroplane in a simulated operational environment, they added.
"Validating all of our training and preparations for the Dreamliner is critical to help ensure a smoother entry into service for our passengers and crews later this year," said ANA president and chief executive Shinichiro Ito.
He revealed that the 787's first revenue flight will be a domestic service, either on the Haneda-Okayama or Haneda-Hiroshima route. Within the current fiscal year, which ends on 31 March 2012, ANA will operate the aircraft on an international route to either the USA or Europe.
ANA has ordered 55 of the 787s, which have been delayed for almost three years as a result of various production problems with the programme. The airline hopes to have 14 aircraft in service by the end of the current fiscal year and another 10 by the end of the next fiscal year, a target which Boeing says it hopes to meet.
Boeing has orders for 835 of the 787s, but the delays have led to the company paying compensation to many of the customers, meaning they have had to review their fleet and network expansion plans. Acknowledging their "frustration", Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive Jim Albaugh nonetheless added: "While we apologise for being late, we hope when you fly this airplane and see its capabilities, you'll forgive us."
Ito declined to go into the amount of compensation ANA received from Boeing, but he was confident that the 787 would be an important part of the airline's network.
He added: "There is a Japanese saying, 'the more difficult the birth, the more beloved the child.
"It has been seven years and three months since we ordered the 787. It has been a long time, but the Dreamliner has been worth the wait."