Hainan Airlines had been waiting a long time for its first 787 Dreamliner.
The Chinese carrier’s parent company placed its 10-jet order all the way back in 2005, but years of problems prevented Boeing from presenting a finished plane until this week.
Still, the airline wanted to make sure everything, from the software and in-flight entertainment to the financial details, was right before signing off and paying up.
“It just happened that it stretched into a night,” Boeing South Carolina second-in-command Willy Geary said of the negotiations, which were finally consummated in the pre-dawn hours of July 4. “But they wanted to get it done and not have it go into another day.”
By Friday morning’s ceremony back at the North Charleston delivery center, everyone seemed mostly rested and pleased.
With employees, visitors and media looking on, Geary and Mou Weigang, Hainan’s deputy chairman, celebrated the deal with gifts, a ribbon-cutting and kind words, all facilitated by a translator.
“We are all excited because we have been looking forward for this Dreamliner for several years,” Mou said through his translator while maintaining a serious visage. “Today, the dreams come true.”
The 787program has experienced a raft of technical glitches and supply chain issues over several years, including a three-month grounding this year because of a pair of smoky battery incidents. But Mou, a veteran pilot, noted the Federal Aviation Administration and the Civil Aviation Administration Association have both certified the 787.
“So we believe it will be a safe airplane,” he said, adding, “we have a lot of procedure to protect the safety, so I don’t think it will be a problem.”
Hainan is Boeing South Carolina’s third customer and the 13th airline to get a Dreamliner.
Its red, white and yellow jet contains 36 full, flat-bed business seats configured in rows of 2-2-2, as well as 177 economy seats configured in rows of 3-3-3, according to the official delivery announcement.
A walk-through Friday revealed all the standard Dreamliner features like dimmable windows and swing-down luggage bins. Special for Hainan were rows of red seats with stylized Chinese characters meaning good luck or fortune on them and white slippers with the airline’s golden emblem on them.
That same swirly emblem wraps around the jet’s tailfin. An apparent cross of a lotus flower and a phoenix, Mou’s translator called it a “very traditional Chinese symbol that means harmony and peace.”
“It’s a symbol you can see it as a flower, you can see the bird, anything you want,” he said.
Minutes later, around 10 a.m., the jet, known as Line Number 76 internally, took off for Seattle where it will complete some pilot training before continuing on to China.
“Boeing cannot support very good in South Carolina because it’s a new facility, and so Seattle will provide more better support,” Mou explained through his translator. “So we decide to fly to Seattle to do the base training and then fly back to China.”
Geary said doing such training in North Charleston would require negotiations with the local airport and that the best place to do the training now is at Moses Lake in Washington, which has a “great, big runway.” He said Hainan, like China Southern before it, would also pick up dignitaries in Seattle for the ride home to China.
Hainan will fly its 787 domestically to start, then on routes from Beijing to cities like Chicago, Seattle and Toronto later this year. Mou said flights to Chicago could begin as soon as September.
Friday’s ceremony and flyaway capped a busy week for the local Boeing plant. Hainan, China’s fourth-largest airline, took delivery of its inaugural 787 Thursday, two days after China Southern Airlines, Asia’s biggest airline by fleet size, flew away its first 787 from North Charleston, its second overall.
The delivery is the local plant’s ninth 787 handover overall. Air India took the first seven from North Charleston, including two that were made at Boeing’s wide-body headquarters in Everett, Wash. And on Tuesday, China Southern flew away its first SC-built 787, that airline’s second overall.
Boeing had delivered 66 787s as of its mid-year report on Wednesday. The majority of the 2013 deliveries — 17 as of Wednesday — have come since April when the Federal Aviation Administration lifted its battery-related grounding of the 787 fleet.
The current list price of the 787-8 base-model Dreamliner Hainan flew away Friday is $206.8 million, but airlines that order early or in bulk tend to get substantial discounts.
More deliveries are on the way. As of Friday morning, there were two painted Hainan 787s; one painted Air India 787; two unpainted China Southern 787s; and the most recent addition, one unpainted Qatar Airways 787 on the North Charleston flight line.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.