It was one of the most high-profile and widely anticipated aviation product introductions in recent memory. ANA was launch customer for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and its Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, placing them into service exactly one year ago in September 2011.
Launching the 787 gave ANA a global profile when the world's media focused attention on the Japanese carrier and the remarkable new aircraft. It was the culmination of a great deal of hard work on behalf of the airline's engineering team, the airframer and the engine maker.
For ANA and Rolls-Royce, the project of introducing the new engine too was a learning curve that allowed them to renew relationships. The two companies had not worked together on a large commercial engine since the RB211 for the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. It entered service with ANA way back in the 1970s.
Memories are long in the aviation business though. ANA SEVP Engineering, Hiroyuki Ito, recalls that he was a 'freshman', a young engineer who had recently joined the airline, when the TriStar was entering service. He says it was ANA's knowledge and experience of the RB211 that helped them when they came to consider the engine options available for the 787.
'We looked at the performance of the Trent 1000 and the competitor engine. We also had experience of Rolls-Royce engines from our RB211 days. ANA has been delighted to be the launch operator of the aircraft and the Trent 1000,' says Mr Ito.
The lengthy gestation period of the Boeing 787's development has been well documented but Mr Ito claims that ANA never doubted that they would receive a great product, stating that rather than adopting a negative attitude his engineering team and the airline simply took any extended development time to plan better for the 787's introduction to ANA.
Way before the entry into service though, ANA engineering played an important role in advising the airline management on the technical aspects of the aircraft, as they began the process of considering their fleet renewal programme. In the run up to the selection of the aircraft and engine, it is the engineering team that studies factors such as the safety and reliability of the products. engineering also has to make recommendations on engine performance, efficiency and on maintenance as part of the same competitive analysis.
The outcome of the deliberations was a major initial order for 50 787 aircraft, all powered by the Trent 1000. The decision placed the 787 firmly at the core of the ANA Group's future fleet and network. The airline is scheduled to take 14 of these during this year and a further seven in 2013.
'It is challenging to be a launch customer,' admits Mr Ito. 'For example, we had to develop a special mission team to study the maintenance of the new composite 787. All airlines will need to think about this but it becomes quite a different scale of exercise when you are first into operation,' he adds.
For ANA the new aircraft provides some exciting opportunities. In its domestic operations within Japan, the airline has a high frequency and high-cycle operation on many routes because of the nature of the Japanese geography and its number of small islands. A 787-3 version had originally been proposed by Boeing which would cater well for such operations. However, this is a relatively unusual requirement that is particular to Japan. When Boeing subsequently decided not to pursue the -3 version, ANA had to ensure that revised options proposed, the -8 and -9 versions, could cope with the lifecycle challenges. They worked closely with both the airframer and engine maker to do so.
A year into service and ANA can begin to see some of the benefits that the new aircraft brings to the airline. Of course the enormous publicity at the time of introduction helped boost awareness and passenger demand but that fades over time. The real test is how the 787 helps deliver the longerterm business plan that the airline has set out to achieve.
Those benefits are evident one year on. Like every airline in the world, ANA has been facing challenges around fuel costs, low-cost carrier (LCC) competition, and economic recessions in major economies such as europe and North America. However, Japan has, of course, also had its own problems with earthquakes, a tsunami and the concerns over the nuclear power station failure at Fukushima.
Planning for the airline and ensuring that it can not only cope but prosper in the face of such challenges falls to the network strategy and planning department. using the aircraft they have available, including the growing 787 fleet, to the best advantage of the airline is their remit. By the airline's own assessment, the 787 is approximately 20 per cent more efficient than the Boeing 767s in its fleet on long-haul routes and has double the range. It will also increase the number of seats available on domestic routes by more than 20 per cent when compared to the same aircraft.
For Rolls-Royce, the fact that ANA was the first airline to put the Trent 1000 into service was particularly poignant. Rolls-Royce has longterm partnerships with Japanese companies KHI and MHI, both of whom are integral to the Trent 1000 programme. KHI and Rolls-Royce are celebrating a 50-year relationship in 2012.
ANA certainly appreciated their involvement too. 'Japan's "heavy industries" were part of both the aircraft and the engine's development and we know their reputation for reliability and their manufacturing capability. That was a positive for ANA,' says Mr Ito.
'With regard to Rolls-Royce in particular, I think there is a great empathy between our two companies. It is clear to me that ANA and Rolls-Royce have a similar engineering mindset. Rolls-Royce has a strong identity driven by engineering knowledge and expertise in gas turbines in particular. That engenders enormous pride because your people are specialised in this field and have a deep understanding of it. I know that ANA can be demanding as a customer but that only serves to enhance our relationship when we work together. It drives quality and service in both our organisations, a demanding customer is a good customer if the supplier embraces this philosophy.
'Having worked with Rolls-Royce on the RB211 in my early career, it is good to work with them again. I believe that together ANA and Rolls-Royce can deliver great results on the 787 and Trent 1000, showing the world that we made the right decision to buy this aircraft and engine combination.' As ANA takes the 787 to increasing numbers of new destinations around the world, the Rolls-Royce logos on the engines will be an emblem of the partnership that was created between the nations and the companies that helped create such an outstanding new aircraft in a winning combination.