Qantas has joined the Dreamliner club and took delivery of its first plane last Tuesday from Boeing at its Everett wide-body manufacturing base near Seattle. It was then flown to Sydney via Honolulu. Here's a report on ferry flight QF7879.

Pre-flight

Taking delivery of a new model of aircraft is a big event for most airlines. Qantas had previously deferred Dreamliner orders, so made a big deal of picking up the first of its eight planes.

A large media contingent from Australia, the United States and other countries was invited to a series of events at Everett, about 36km north of Seattle.

A ceremony was held at a flight museum on the site the day the plane was unveiled, with a rush to get on it by media. There was a gala dinner where some members of the 1980s Aussie band Icehouse played.

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Airline customers on the day of departure pick up planes from the Boeing Delivery Center on the edge of Paine Field (airport code PAE). The flash terminal building has one of the best airports around - with airforce tankers and civilian aircraft in all stages of finish on the tarmac.

On the morning of the flight there was a ribbon cutting and the handing over of a key to Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.

The Boeing Delivery Center at Paine Field. Photo / Grant Bradley
The Boeing Delivery Center at Paine Field. Photo / Grant Bradley

The key is ceremonial; the plane's big pre-engine start electric systems are turned on with a switch in the cockpit.

Boeing has its own security force and a Transport Safety Administration-approved screening operation with airport X-ray machines and a friendly dog trained to sniff out explosives.

It was a 30-minute taxi to the runway past all varieties of plane and then after takeoff, at around 270km/h, a good look back at Everett with views down the Pacific coast to Oregon.

The ride

A bit bumpy over the Pacific Coast but it could have been worse - the Dreamliner's gust suppression system works with sensors and the flaps and rudder to reduce turbulence.

Boeing engineers were on board monitoring systems and this was a something of a test flight, so being light the plane could easily climb to monitor engine performance at 43,000 feet (up from a typical maximum 41,000 feet).

While having charter flight status, the flight deck was off limits. Standard announcements are made about immigration and border formalities and the cabin was sprayed for bugs just before landing in Sydney just on 7am.

The view as the flight nears Sydney. Photo / Grant Bradley
The view as the flight nears Sydney. Photo / Grant Bradley

The plane:

A brand-new Boeing 787-9 series that had just nine flying hours on the clock . This consisted of two flights by Boeing pilots and one with Qantas pilots over Washington state's coast and into the mountainous interior, landing at a Cold War airbase at Moses Lake.

After a rocky start to the programme there have been more than 600 of the Dreamliners delivered since 2011.

The Qantas aircraft, named "Great Southern Land" (hence the Icehouse presence) after 45,000 suggestions from the public, and registered VHZNA - also nicknamed Xena.

These planes have a list price of US$270 million (NZ$376m), although airlines get substantial discounts by ordering in bulk or ordering early in the aircraft development process. Qantas' initial order was made in September 2005.

It paid Boeing for VHZNA five days before the delivery flight after its test process and a painstaking inspection of the plane's interior for any imperfections.

Australian civil aviation reps were on board to monitor the aircraft and its operation. Across the Pacific data link communications to San Francisco and Nadi were tested.

The route

The 4300km flight from Seattle to Honolulu - where the plane was welcomed in traditional style by a ukulele group - took just over five hours but was a one-off for Qantas.

Guests aboard Qantas Boeing 787-9 welcomed in Honolulu. Photo / Grant Bradley
Guests aboard Qantas Boeing 787-9 welcomed in Honolulu. Photo / Grant Bradley

The overnight 8150 leg from Honolulu to Sydney took just over nine hours and was timed for arrival in the early morning and was given clearance for a sweep over Sydney Harbour at 2000 feet with the plane greeted by hundreds of Qantas staff, politicians and other guests at the airline's Hangar 96.

Business cabin in Qantas new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Picture / Supplied
Business cabin in Qantas new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Picture / Supplied

The cabin

Qantas has gone for a premium heavy cabin, seating 236 passengers across three classes: there are 42 seats in the business class cabin, in a 1-2-1 layout, 28 in an all-new premium economy in a 2-3-3 layout (meaning there is a middle seat although that one is wider) and 166 in economy in a 3-3-3 configuration.

The plane was carrying just 91 crew and passengers who were able to sprinkle themselves around the cabin and provide space for the many Australian camera crews to film.

Qantas' chief executive Alan Joyce and camera crew on board. Photo / Grant Bradley.
Qantas' chief executive Alan Joyce and camera crew on board. Photo / Grant Bradley.

As a media event it was one of the bigger ones.

The Qantas plane has the standard Dreamliner features, including much larger windows than most other planes and these are dimmable rather than having a manual shade and mood lighting. Its toilets have motion-activated taps and flush.

The crew

There were 10 cabin crew on duty, the same as for a normal flight plus some, so we were well looked after in spite of the rush to get double the number of first-class meals out in the relatively short flight time.

Qantas food guru Neil Perry was on board and some of his signature dishes were on the menu. Some crew applied for the flight, others got the call.

You also get the chief executive of the airline welcoming you on board.

On the leg from Honolulu to Sydney Australian border force staff were on board to clear passengers on the journey to avoid formalties on the ground - nice if that could happen on every flight.


• Grant Bradley travelled on QF7879 courtesy of Qantas and Boeing.