The Boeing goodwill machine rolled into Auckland yesterday with its $220 million Boeing 787 Dreamliner demonstrator aircraft and confidence it has its delivery programme back on track.
Plane enthusiasts flocked to vantage points around Auckland Airport for a glimpse of the first passenger-carrying 787 to land here as it nears the end of a six-month global tour.
Nearly 60 airlines have on order 854 of the planes, made largely of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic and powered by the latest fuel-efficient engines.
Boeing's regional director of product marketing, Tadashi Mabee, said the tour was intended to show off the plane to potential customers and airlines that had already ordered it.
Delays have plagued the Dreamliner, and the 10 that Air New Zealand have on order are running up to four years late.
"I think the nice thing is that the biggest hurdles are behind us. The main issues that we had were with the production system and trying something new. So we could have done that better, but we're past that and getting a healthier system."
Japanese airlines had taken delivery of 11 of the 787 eight-series planes, and Mabee said new technology used on the plane had met expectations.
The demonstrator plane used on the "Dream Tour" has 64 seats in different configurations in three cabins, including business class. Airlines will fill the planes with up to 250 seats.
The wide-body plane has been described as a "game changer" for airlines as they try to cut their greatest cost - fuel - and promises fuel savings of up to 20 per cent.
Air New Zealand's programme director, Kerry Reeves, was on yesterday's flight inspecting cabin systems such as lighting, galleys and work areas as well as getting a feel for the passenger experience.
The airline has voiced frustration at delays for its larger nine-series planes, but Reeves said he was impressed by the flight.
"It seems to me to live up to expectations. This has been a really good opportunity for Air New Zealand to experience the systems and check out operational assumptions."
Decisions would be made around September on the configuration of cabins for its planes, and the airline was wary of risking passenger comfort by packing too many in.
"We're very mindful of this. There's a constant compromise between giving passengers the experience they are prepared to pay for versus the economics and cost structure of the aircraft."
It was possible passengers would be prepared to pay a premium to fly on the Dreamliner.
Boeing says the interest from the public has been enormous wherever it has landed.
Plane spotters blocked motorways in Santiago when the plane put down there, and in Istanbul it was mobbed by spectators on the runway.
"It's like being a rock star," said one staffer.
"Except they're interested in the plane, not us," she said.
The plane will fly to Christchurch today.
THE RIDE TEST
Boeing's promises of new comforts put to the test on the demonstrator flight.
1. High, vaulted ceilings give a feeling of spaciousness
Absolutely - although airlines will limit how much space they give away to grand lobbies. Cleaner, white standard issue decor helps.
2. LED lighting used to match the mood on long flights and adjustable to fit an airline's look.
Another winner taking cabin lighting to a new level, the disco effect very funky.
3. Big windows up to 70 per cent larger than rival aircraft and tinted by electronic controls.
Every seat can almost be a window seat. No more plastic shades, toddlers will be kept busy controlling the tinting.
4. Lower noise because of advanced engines.
A little inconclusive as the demonstrator was only quarter-filled with seats, so noise absorption lost, but depended on where you were on the plane.
5. Jetlag-busting moister atmosphere because the stronger carbon fibre fuselage allows the Dreamliner to handle greater pressure differences between inside and outside than rival planes can.
Hard to assess on a three-hour flight; more seasoned travellers say they felt the difference.
Grant Bradley travelled on the Dreamliner courtesy of Boeing and Air New Zealand.