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First! What Airline Will Claim the Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight?

August 5, 2014 at 5:18 PM | by | ()

Just when it seemed that front page focus on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would peter out now that Boeing has delivered over 160 of them, the aircraft is again making headlines with the launch of a new version: the 787-9.

What that little "-9" brings is a bigger plane, as we've explained, and this week marks the introduction of the airliner to its first regularly scheduled commercial routes.

Who will have the honor of being first to fly the 787-9? The answer is figuratively up in the air, as both Air New Zealand and ANA are in a tug-of-war for the title. Let's break it down:

· July 8: Air NZ celebrated the official first delivery of a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. As the launch customer of the type, Air NZ took it home on a nonstop delivery flight from Everett, WA to Auckland, NZ. The aircraft—tail number ZK-NZE—was full of VIPs and Aus/NZ media, but no paying passengers.

· July 27: Without much fanfare, ANA took delivery of their first 787-9 from Boeing in Everett, WA.

· July 31: ANA zipped out a press release for "first scheduled flights with Boeing 787-9." While that headline may be vague, the release continued on with this claim: "The plane, in 395-seat configuration, will be introduced progressively on routes between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Fukuoka, Osaka (Itami), and Matsuyama as ANA becomes the first airline in the world to operate the scheduled flight of 787-9."

· August 4: ANA flew about 80 schoolchildren onboard the 787-9 for a brief but special flight over Mount Fuji.

· August 7: ANA plans to squeeze the first of their scheduled 787-9 flights out into the system, beating Air NZ by two days. That's assuming there's no last-minute equipment swap (aka aircraft change). The first will be a 1.5-hour flight from Tokyo-Haneda to Fukuoka on NH241, which is currently showing up on ANA as a 787, but on sites like FlightStats.com as a 777-200. The ANA site won't allow us to check rates for a August 7/8 return for HND-FUK, as it keeps returning with an error.

· August 9: Air New Zealand is scheduled to begin the 787-9 on NZ103 and NZ104, back and forth between Auckland and Sydney. It's a 3.5-hour flight between the two cities, completely bookable and still available on the AirNZ site, costing $259 one-way, or $600 roundtrip for a next-day return.

The result? While it looks as though ANA will have the very first regularly scheduled commercial flight of a 787-9 on August 7, the August 9 inaugural on Air New Zealand will be nearly double the length of flight time and the first 787-9 flight on an international route. Air NZ's is also open and available to book, unlike our issues with the ANA inaugural.

While ANA wins the date for first flight, Air NZ wins for quality. Congratulations to both airlines on their first 787-9s; now all eyes on United for the start of America's first 787-9 flights, come late September.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher]

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