Worth the wait: Boeing 787 a hit with first passengers

@CNNMoney October 27, 2011: 2:37 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Boeing's long-delayed 787 Dreamliner made its first commercial flight to the rave reviews of passengers who scrambled to be onboard the history-making aircraft.

All Nippon Airways flight No. 7871 left Tokyo's Narita Airport about 20 minutes late at 12:40 p.m. local time (11:40 p.m. ET Tuesday) but made up for lost time, arriving in Hong Kong just two minutes behind schedule at 3:52 p.m. local time (3:52 a.m. ET).

The plane carried many members of the media and VIPs, along with executives of ANA and Boeing (BA, Fortune 500). About 100 out of the 250 seats were sold to the public who participated in a lottery conducted by ANA among members of its frequent flyer program.

"Next to the day I was married and my two sons were born, this is the biggest day of my life," said Chris Sloan. "I'm just thrilled to be here. The ceiling height is dramatic. The lighting is dramatic."

The flight was more historic than the typical inaugural flight of a new aircraft. That's because it is the first commercial jet to be built out of light-weight composite material made with carbon fibers.

The material is a key to allowing the plane to be 20% more fuel efficient than an aluminum plane of the same size, an important consideration in an age of high fuel prices and frequent losses among carriers.

But the new material, and a new manufacturing process that outsourced more of the assembly of the aircraft to suppliers spread around the world, led to more than three years of delays for Boeing, which originally planned its first delivery for 2008.

Passengers will benefit from the different material as it allows for higher humidity and a more comfortable cabin pressure than a typical passenger jet. There are also larger overhead bag compartments and larger windows with adjustable tinting rather than window shades to adjust for the sun. Even the bathrooms have windows.

The more fuel-efficient engines made by either General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) or Rolls Royce are supposed to provide a quieter ride for passengers.

Six business class seats were auctioned by ANA on eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) to raise money for charity, with the money set to go to environmental groups.

One passenger paid more than $30,000 in the charity auction to be on the flight, according to ANA. An earlier charity auction had raised $18,604.44 for a pair of seats.

Most passengers who won their seats in the lottery paid $1,000 for the ticket package, which included a stay in the luxury Marco Polo Hotel in Hong Kong.

Airlines have been lining up to buy the plane, with Boeing already booking 821 firm orders and an additional 200 options for the jet, by far a record backlog of orders before the first flight.

American fliers will probably have to wait until Japan Airlines starts flying from Tokyo to Boston in April of next year before they can board one at a U.S. airport.

United Airlines (UAL, Fortune 500) will be the first U.S. carrier to take delivery of the plane, also scheduled for 2012, but it plans on using it on a Houston-to-New Zealand route. The plane is designed for long-haul routes, so it could be a while before it is put into service even on transcontinental U.S. flights.

Boeing reported Wednesday it earned $1.1 billion, or $1.46 a share, in the third quarter, well above both year-earlier results and the most optimistic forecasts of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

The company also raised its full-year earnings guidance. Shares were up 5% in midday trading, helping to lift the Dow Jones industrial average, of which it is a component.

Boeing has invested billions in the research and development of the 787, and has built a new assembly line in South Carolina to handle some of the demand for the aircraft. It has an inventory of an estimated $16 billion in 787 parts and partially assembled planes on its assembly lines.

-- CNN correspondent Andrew Stevens, who was a passenger on Wednesday's flight, contributed to this report.

Correction:An earlier version of this story placed the new assembly line in the wrong state. To top of page

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