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Dreamliner touches down in India after four-year wait

NEW DELHI -- Boeing's 787 Dreamliner landed in New Delhi on Saturday, ending a four-year wait by struggling national carrier Air India to add the next-generation jet to its fleet.

The plane, painted in the red and yellow livery of Air India, was given a water-cannon salute as it taxied down the runway. A small religious ceremony was also conducted to welcome the aircraft, the Press Trust of India reported.

The Dreamliner took 15 hours of flying time from Boeing's Charleston factory in South Carolina to Delhi, plus a 90-minute stopover at Frankfurt for re-fuelling, the commander of the aircraft, captain A.S. Soman, said.

“It was a very smooth flight. It has a very (quiet) cabin and there is much less fatigue (for the pilot). It is both a pilot and passenger friendly airplane,” Soman said.

The plane's arrival — the first of 27 Dreamliners ordered by Air India — was delayed since 2008 because of production problems at Boeing. The carrier and Boeing were then involved in a row over compensation for the delay.

The aircraft is seen as becoming the mainstay of loss-making Air India's global operations and airline officials hope it will attract new customers.

The Dreamliner is also crucial for Air India's turnaround plan because it will replace some older, fuel-guzzling planes.

For Air India, the plane has been configured to have 256 seats — 18 business class seats and 238 in economy.

The carrier's once-dominant market share has shrunk to 18 percent in the face of fierce competition from private and low-cost carriers that have taken to the air since India liberalized its commercial aviation sector in the 1990s.

In April, the government cleared a US$5.75 billion bailout package to help Air India, which has debts of US$8.3 billion.

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Air India's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner, right, from Charleston in the U.S., is parked on the tarmac at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, Saturday, Sept. 8. (AFP)



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