Air Canada is targeting seven major Canadian cities as departure points for the long-range Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The first plane in the carrier’s order for 37 Dreamliners will arrive in the first quarter of 2014, followed by six more of the aircraft that year, said Ben Smith, Air Canada’s chief commercial officer.
Service will be launched from the largest domestic hubs of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal in 2014, Mr. Smith said in an interview Sunday aboard the Dreamliner.
By late 2014 or early 2015, he envisages Air Canada beginning to gradually roll out the 787 in four more Canadian markets – Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Halifax.
“There are so many opportunities,” Mr. Smith said. He emphasized that the Dreamliner has the range to allow Air Canada to offer new non-stop service between major Canadian cities and popular foreign destinations, as well as pave the way for the carrier to increase the frequency of flights on some existing international routes.
The 787 Dreamliner is being touted by Boeing as a breakthrough for airlines because the smaller, more fuel-efficient jet is capable of travelling the longer distances traditionally flown by larger planes. The problem with huge planes is that they need to attract a lot of daily traffic to make economic sense for global airlines.
Air Canada has ordered Dreamliners that each seat from 242 to 280 passengers, compared with nearly 350 seats on the Boeing 777 and between 500 and 825 seats on the double-decker Airbus A380.
Air Canada chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu said Friday that he’s considering cities in China and India as prospective destinations, though there are many possibilities, including Moscow and cities in South America, too.
Boeing believes the 787 will clear the way for Air Canada and other carriers to offer more flexibility in route scheduling and a greater choice of flight times on existing routes.
Sunday’s flight from Toronto to Boston was the first leg of a swing through North America by the No. 3 production plane.
Japan Airlines Corp. will begin its Boston-Tokyo route in April.
Leading carriers have been waiting a long time for the Dreamliner to make its debut. Air Canada originally placed its order for 787s in 2005, with delivery targeted for 2010, but a series of production delays dogged Boeing.
More than half of the Dreamliner is built from light-weight composite material, making it 20 per cent more fuel efficient than the Boeing 767.
Japan’s ANA embarked on the inaugural commercial Dreamliner flight last October, but the plane will still be a relatively rare sighting in the world in 2014, at least until Boeing ramps up production in the coming years.
An air traffic controller in Toronto engaged in brief, light-hearted banter on Sunday, politely asking whether the Dreamliner pilots had time to do a celebratory fly-past. “That would be a negative,” replied a smiling Captain Randy Neville, the 787’s chief pilot, as he explained that the crew had to meet a tight schedule to get to ceremonies in Boston.