EVERETT, Wash. — At first glance, the 787 Dreamliner doesn’t appear all that revolutionary. Except for long, thin glider-like wings, high ceilings framed by blue LED lights, and large windows that dim at the touch of a button, it looks much like any other Boeing jet.
But the long-awaited twin-aisle plane, which launches its first commercial US route from Logan International Airport next month, promises to open new long-distance destinations from Boston and other midsize markets. After Japan Airlines starts flying the 787 nonstop between Boston and Tokyo on April 22, Logan officials anticipate that wide adoption of the fuel-efficient jet may someday open previously unfeasible routes to China, India, Greece, and Brazil.
Made with durable, lightweight composites such as carbon fiber reinforced plastic and utilizing more electricity to power its primary and secondary systems than conventional planes do, the 787 consumes 20 percent less fuel than similarly sized aluminum planes. Less fuel means lower costs, allowing airlines to operate long-haul routes — generally six hours or more — profitably with fewer passengers.
Even if Boston had enough long-distance travelers to pack massive planes like the Airbus A380, which seats up to 800, Logan’s short runways prohibit such planes from taking off fully loaded with passengers, fuel, and cargo.
The Dreamliner, configured with 186 seats on Japan Airlines’ Boston flight, solves both these problems.
“It’s made to order for Logan Airport,’’ said Edward Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan. “It’s something that we’ve waited for for a long time.’’
The Dreamliner makes a one-day appearance at Logan today as part of a worldwide tour. But all eyes in the aviation industry will remain on Boston and the new Tokyo flight, the first new route to be opened by the 787. The 5,800-mile, 13-hour Boston-Tokyo nonstop, costing an average of $1,400 round trip in economy, will test if the plane has what it takes to sustain a profitable long-distance flight in smaller markets.
“There’s a lot at stake,’’ said James Haas, director of 787 product marketing at Boeing. “This is extremely important for us that Japan Airlines has a successful experience.’’
Boeing is also hoping that passengers have better flying experiences. In designing the 787, the aviation giant employed a psychologist and a cultural anthropologist to conduct surveys, and they found that passengers were bored. They no longer associated plane travel with the thrill of flight. And after battling traffic, long lines, and endless security procedures, they didn’t feel welcome when they came onboard.
To try to reconnect travelers to “the magic that is flight,’’ said Kent Craver, regional director of passenger satisfaction at Boeing, engineers added amenities made possible by the flexibility, lighter weight, and durability of the composites. They raised the ceiling and installed larger windows that passengers can dim and brighten at the touch of a button. They increased humidity to combat dryness, pressurized the cabin to a lower altitude to reduce headaches, and developed a filtration system to eliminate perfume and hairspray contaminants that irritate passengers’ eyes and throats.
They built bigger overhead luggage bins and installed technology that helps the plane compensate for turbulence and provide a smoother ride.
“It’s definitely a game changer,’’ said John Hansman, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I think this airplane will reset the expectation of the passengers in terms of cabin comfort.’’
But not everyone is blown away by the 787. Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group Corp., an aerospace market analysis firm in Virginia, said the 787 is simply building on a long history of airplane innovation.
“It’s still a tube with wings, it’s just a slightly lighter tube,’’ he said. “We’ve had incredible achievements in bringing operating costs down, reducing fuel consumption, reducing emissions. That’s the revolution.’’
‘It’s definitely a game changer. I think this airplane will reset the expectation of the passengers in terms of cabin comfort.’
The 787 was designed completely digitally, with no physical mock-ups. To do this, Boeing used software from Dassault Systemes, a French company that has its North American headquarters in Waltham.
Implementing all this technology did not come easily. Between engineering challenges and problems with manufacturers around the world that built sections of the 787, the plane was delayed by more than three years and had billions of dollars in cost overruns.
Last week on the floor of the colossal Boeing plant in Everett, Wash., which can fit 911 NBA basketball courts inside, hundreds of workers scurried around four 787s designated for All Nippon Airways and Qatar Airways, each in various stages of assembly. Mechanics climbed stairs into the aircraft as engineers gathered around computers below them.
Offices housing a round-the-clock production support staff overlooked the assembly floor, where a 63-foot-tall machine known as the MOATT - the mother of all tooling towers - was positioned to attach vertical fins to plane bodies.
So far, 60 airlines and other customers have ordered 873 Dreamliners, making it the fastest-selling wide-body plane in commercial aviation history, Boeing said. Although sales have slowed since 2007, analysts expect orders to pick up once the 787 starts opening routes that airlines wouldn’t have considered in the past, such as Houston to Auckland, New Zealand, which United Airlines starts later this year.
As fuel prices climb, the airline industry has shifted its focus from jumbo jets to more fuel-efficient aircraft like the 787. Peter Belobaba, director of MIT’s Global Airline Industry Program, said the plane will enhance the way modern airlines operate, allowing them to offer international and other long-distance flights from a greater number of airports.
“Decades ago,’’ he said, “passengers traveling to Asia had to connect through a West Coast gateway, because only the largest aircraft had the range for trans-Pacific flights.’’
For many aviation geeks, however, there’s a simpler reason to like the 787. As Boeing’s Haas puts it: “It’s a super cool airplane.’’Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this article about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner should have said the plane has more primary and secondary systems that run on electricity than conventional planes do.