"I knew that this was something special," Satoru Fujiki, senior vice president of All Nippon Airways, told journalists during a briefing Sunday.
Just a few hours earlier, ANA and Boeing officials had inked the final contract that transferred ownership of the first Dreamliner to the Japanese carrier. Boeing and ANA celebrated the first delivery of a 787 in a ceremony in Everett on Monday. ANA will fly its first Dreamliner home to Tokyo this morning.
After flying some special charter flights to show off its new Dreamliner in October, ANA will put its first 787 into regular service Nov. 1.
ANA hopes the Dreamliner will help it become the top carrier in Asia in terms of customer satisfaction, quality and value, Fujiki said.
"To become number one (we) made astrategic decision to become the first to the fly the 787," he said.
In 2010, ANA was the ninth-largest airline by revenue in the world and 13th-largest by passenger volume. That year, the carrier surpassed Japan Airlines for the first time in passenger traffic, pushing ANA in the direction it wants to go.
When ANA placed the order that launched the 787 in 2004, the carrier also was concerned with replacing its aging 767s, Fujiki said. The Dreamliner was well suited to fly not only ANA's routes within Japan but also its expanding international routes. Since the 787 burns less fuel, it will allow ANA to fly longer routes that previously weren't viable options for the airline, he said.
And ANA officials were wowed by the 787's added passenger comforts: larger windows, a smoother ride and more soothing air quality and cabin pressure.
"Japan is renowned for hospitality, and we take pride in the quality of our service," Fujiki said.
The 787 has been embraced in Japan, drawing thousands of people to see the aircraft when it flew test flights there this summer. Part of the affection for the 787 comes from the country's role in building it, Fujiki said. Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Fuji Heavy Industries, supply 30 percent of the parts for a 787.
Although Fujiki was optimistic about how the 787 will shape ANA's future, he acknowledged the difficulties of dealing with three years of delays on the Dreamliner program.
"I cannot say we didn't have any impact," he said. "Boeing and ANA worked very closely to mitigate the impact."
Boeing worked to get ANA 767s and 777s to fill routes where the airline had intended to place 787s. And Boeing plans to fill ANA's order quickly, with all 55 Dreamliners being delivered by the end of 2017. The airline will have 12 Dreamliners by April.
"It's kind of catching up (for) our delay," he said.
Still, ANA had to make some adjustments based on the quality of the 787s it will receive. This first 787 is "much heavier" than what Boeing had advertised its new jet to be. As a result, ANA has chosen to use that aircraft for short-haul operations. Many of the initial 787s that Boeing built are heavier than planned and will require extensive rework by Boeing. Later models are expected to be lighter.
Regardless, "we'll soon be flying the Dreamliners around the world," he said.
ANA's 787 routes could extend to North America in the future. The carrier is being courted by several North American cities to bring 787 service here.
"I think Seattle is one of the candidates," Fujiki said. It would be "kind of the perfect market to operate" a Dreamliner.