SAN JOSE - In what city leaders hope ushers in a new era of international travel for their modern airport, the inaugural All Nippon Airways Dreamliner 787 flight linking Silicon Valley with Tokyo roared out over the Pacific Friday morning, just hours after the Federal Aviation Administration ordered a safety review of the new planes.

The long-courted San Jose-Tokyo flight - a five-day-a-week route that eventually will be daily - received a boisterous send-off, including toasts of sake and a water turret salute. San Jose is the first Bay Area airport to land the fuel-sipping plane loaded with passenger comforts - such as larger windows with electronic shades - on a permanent route. And it is the first direct San Jose flight to Asia since American Airlines ended its San Jose-Tokyo service seven years ago.

ANA’s new 787 Dreamliner touched down at San Jose Mineta International Airport on Friday. (Gary Reyes/The Mercury News)
ANA's new 787 Dreamliner touched down at San Jose Mineta International Airport on Friday. (Gary Reyes/The Mercury News)

"It's important to our economy, it's important to our families and it's important to our airport," San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said in a ceremony marking the start of the service that began with two musicians playing kotos, harplike Japanese instruments. Reed was accompanied by a host of heavy-hitters, including former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Hiroshi Inomata and ANA Chairman of the Board Yoji Ohashi.

"The San Jose-Tokyo service is now open for business," announced Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino, who played an instrumental role in bringing the new route to San Jose. A ribbon-cutting and breaking of a sake-barrel with wooden mallets, a traditional Japanese ritual called kagami-wari, which symbolizes a new beginning, ensued.


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The launch party, though, was overshadowed by the FAA announcement that it is undertaking a comprehensive review of critical systems of the Boeing's newest and most technologically advanced jetliner after a fire and a fuel leak earlier this week. The investigation will include the design, manufacture and assembly of those systems.

The aircraft is made with flexible and lighter high-strength fibers embedded in resin, enabling it to be 20 percent more fuel-efficient than other jetliners. But numerous glitches with the Dreamliner - some aviation analysts call them "teething" problems - have caused Boeing embarrassment.

On Monday, an electrical fire broke out on a Japan Airlines-operated 787 Dreamliner after landing in Boston; the next day, another JAL 787 aborted a flight departing from Boston after some 40 gallons of fuel spilled out onto the runway. And on Wednesday, ANA canceled a domestic Dreamliner flight because of a brake problem.

The string of problems caused some passengers on the San Jose-Tokyo flight to joke that they were bringing along electrical tool kits and fire extinguishers in case more problems arise. Guardino joked that he considered bringing along "a backpack with a parachute."

ANA, the launch carrier for the Dreamliner, took delivery of the first 787 in October 2011. Last fall, the Tokyo-based airline said it was ordering 11 more, which will eventually give it a Dreamliner fleet of 66.

ANA’s new 787 Dreamliner touched down at San Jose Mineta International Airport on Friday. (Gary Reyes/The Mercury News)
ANA's new 787 Dreamliner touched down at San Jose Mineta International Airport on Friday. (Gary Reyes/The Mercury News)

ANA Chairman Ohashi, who greeted scores of reporters from Japan and the Bay Area with a bow, said the airline has not yet spoken with the FAA and would not have a comment regarding the agency's review of the aircraft. But, he added, "We are confident about the Dreamliner. We still believe this is a good aircraft. As the launch carrier (of the 787), we believe this is our destiny."

The executive recited a Japanese saying about life having ups and downs. Even if one goes down seven times, the airline and 787 will rise up the eighth time. But he acknowledged that it will be a "constant battle" to ensure the airplane's safety with "constant maintenance."

"We want passengers to feel safe about the airplane," Ohashi added.

Ohashi said the San Jose route is an important one for ANA. San Jose "is located in the center of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley has a lot of IT companies, including Japanese ones." ANA hopes to tap those business travelers heading to Japan and elsewhere in Asia, he said.

Travelers on the sold-out flight appeared thrilled at the chance to cross the ocean on an airplane analysts believe will change the airline industry, much like Boeing's 747 did in the 1970s by opening up long-haul travel for the masses. The 787's efficiency and long-range capabilities could make direct international flights to smaller airports like San Jose profitable for airlines.

When the plane touched down about 9:25 a.m. - nearly an hour early - cheers erupted in the airport's new lounge, The Club, located near ANA's gate. Onlookers pressed up against the windows overlooking the airfield, clicking pictures with their cameras and smartphones.

Clearly, the airplane's celebrity-like status has not been damaged by the recent glitches - at least for those on hand for its big arrival Friday in San Jose.

"Welcome!" some said. Others simply let out, "Wow! Yeah!"

Robert Erickson, a tax adviser from Washington D.C., was the first to check-in before 8 a.m. He shrugged at the reports of 787 problems. "No passenger has been injured or killed on a 787," he said."

Erickson, who decided to take a vacation to Japan when he heard about the new 787 San Jose-Tokyo route, was already thinking about the thrill of riding on the Dreamliner across the ocean.

"I am looking forward to the experience of the larger windows, the fresher air," he said, referring to the aircrafts better humidity and less pressurized cabins. "It's supposed to be roomier. And I'm looking forward to seeing what ANA is like. It's a new experience."

"It's the state-of-art airplane," said Joseph Lee, who dropped off his wife Ai and their 15-month-old daughter Hana, who were headed to Japan to visit with family.

"I'm really excited," said Ai Lee, who said ANA is known for treating young children very well.

Passenger San Carlos resident Alan Tsuda, a consultant, said he was more excited that he can now catch a direct flight to Asia from San Jose International.

"It's a big deal for San Jose," he said. "It puts the 'international' in San Jose International. I like being able to leave out of San Jose. San Francisco (International) can be of daunting at times. There is a lot more traffic."

Securing the nonstop flight required a five-year effort by city officials and business leaders. It included a trip to Tokyo two years ago by Reed, Guardino and other officials to personally lobby ANA CEO Shinichiro Ito over tea. They promised airline officials they would strongly nudge the valley's global business community to use the new service, which can link passengers to cities across Asia. Also playing a role in attracting the airline was Mercury News Publisher Mac Tully, chairman of the group's CEO airport task force.

The stakes are high for San Jose International: Other Asian and European carriers, in much better financial condition than their American competitors, have indicated they are interested in launching a service to San Jose if the ANA route is a success, said Bill Sherry, San Jose International's director of aviation.

"We have been trying to get this for a very, very long time," Reed said. "It's a really big win. We have to make sure the planes fly full. That is our challenge."

The airport, saddled with $1.5 billion in debt from its major makeover a few years ago, has faced stiff headwinds trying increase air service - and revenue - as the economy slowly recovers from a deep recession and the U.S. airline industry, upended by consolidations and soaring fuel prices, cut services to mid-size airports like San Jose International.

City officials estimate the new San Jose-Tokyo route will generate $78 million in business for Silicon Valley and 61 jobs in San Jose during its first year of service.

"It's paid off," said Guardino, whose staff has been working with ANA officials on a daily basis for the last year, including connecting the airline with executives of about 80 companies in the valley.

What's most important, he added, is what happens long after Friday's sake and Shitake quiche celebration.

"If this is not a long-term success, it not only does not bode well for the service, but for all the other domestic and international flights for which we are advocating for. We are joined at the hip."

Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter