Boeing's much-vaunted 777X still some years away before it can soar with flyers

Airline companies have been rethinking plans to take delivery of the B777X as they have been compelled to cut back operations under the onslaught of Covid-19

Boeing's much-vaunted 777X still some years away before it can soar with flyers
The B777X is expected to help Boeing get over its financial woes. Image courtesy: Boeing

The Boeing 777X had conducted its maiden test flight with a lot of fanfare around this time last year, but its entry into service continues to be delayed. The giant, billed as the world's largest twin-engine aircraft, was supposed to enter service last June with the Dubai-based Emirates. The B777X's entry into service was pushed back as a result of a delay in its first flight, caused by issues with its GE9X engines: the world's largest commercial engines built by General Electric. 

Now, Emirates president Tim Clark has said that the B777X may not join the airline until 2023, or even later, amid uncertainty over the jet's development timeline and its certification. 

"It is a question of when that aircraft is going to be completed and certified and offered for entry of service. That could be ‘22, could be ‘23, it could be even longer," Clark told Reuters.

"So we will just wait and see as to what Boeing will do with regard to that and we will take a view as to how they fit into the fleet at that particular time," he added. 

Emirates had signed a firm order for the B777X at the Dubai Airshow in 2013. At that time, it had 150 B777X planes on order, comprising 115 B777-9 and 35 B777-8 planes, according to a report. This was apart from purchase rights for 50 additional aircraft. “We look forward to inducting them into our fleet from 2020,” Clark had commented at that time.   

Delivery of the Boeing 777X to airline companies have seen repeated postponements. Image courtesy: Boeing

Airline companies, however, have been rethinking plans to take delivery of the B777X as they have been compelled to cut back operations under the onslaught of Covid-19 and the resultant loss of demand and revenue.

According to data from Boeing, as of December 31, 2020, Emirates had 115 B777X and 30 787-9 Dreamliners on order, reported. Emirates has also been looking to swap some of the 115 Boeing 777Xs it has on order for the smaller and more versatile 787 Dreamliners, a Bloomberg Quint report said. 

Also read -- Boeing 777X: World's largest plane that beats competition hands down

Emirates has a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-body planes, including the Airbus A380-800, which is the world's largest passenger aircraft, Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 777-200LR. It is the largest operator of the Boeing 777, with 155 such planes in its fleet. It is also the only airline ever to operate all six of the 777 variants introduced into service by the planemaker. Emirates also has 50 Airbus 350-900 planes on order, apart from the B777Xs and B787-9 Dreamliners. These planes will make the carrier's fleet much more varied.

There has always been a worry for Boeing that order conversions and deferrals by airlines would result in the B777X being produced in such small numbers that would hurt its profitability. Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and Emirates have been planning to restructure their fleets. Expected orders from China were dented by trade tensions.    

Moreover, the high-volume long-haul market may stay depressed for years in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic had also dampened the demand for big jets. 

An Emirates Boeing 777-300ER. The UAE carrier is the biggest operator of the B777. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/

The B777X was expected to enter the Dubai-based carrier's fleet in 2021, a year later than originally planned due to development glitches. Lufthansa was also expecting delivery in 2021.

Boeing has now been developing the B777X -- a larger and more efficient version of the successful B777 mini-jumbo -- with the target of releasing it in 2022.

The first B777X is slated to be delivered to German flag carrier Lufthansa, followed by the second to Emirates, according to Lufthansa's current order is for 20 B777-9 planes.   

The B777X is the first major aircraft that would be certified since software flaws in two Boeing 737 Max aircraft led to two fatal crashes within a space of just over four months, killing nearly 350 people. These crashes -- in Indonesia and Ethiopia -- led to allegations of Boeing being hand-in-glove with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The crashes caused the plane to be grounded across the world for a record 20 months.  

Also read -- Boeing's killer B737 Max ungrounded, but Spicejet need not celebrate yet

European regulators have been particularly wary of giving the green signal to the B777X, saying that they would put the plane through increased scrutiny, keeping in mind the B737 Max crashes.

Emirates' Clark did expect such heightened scrutiny for the B777X, and Boeing’s Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith had warned that the plane's entry would be determined by the requirements of regulators.   

However, Clark did not feel that the certification process would add significantly to the delay in introducing the B777X. "This is essentially a modern 777, which of course is a workhorse for international travel and it has been a thoroughly reliable, excellent bit of Boeing design, so I don’t see why the 777X should be any different,” Clark told Reuters.

The B777X was expected to put a balm on Boeing's financial woes caused by the grounding of its best-selling narrow-body aircraft, the B737 Max, and the planned retirement of its iconic B747 jumbo jet in 2022. The B777X is longer than the B747 and carries a similar number of passengers, and would be a good replacement for the double-decker jumbo jet. The B777X competes with Airbus's A350-1000, which can carry 360 passengers. 

The Boeing 777X is billed as the world's largest twin-engine jet. Image courtesy: Boeing

The Boeing 777X will officially be known as Boeing 777-9. At $442.2 million, the B777-9 is the costliest Boeing aircraft. The B777-8 has a price tag of $410.2 million. The B747-8 is the second-costliest Boeing passenger jet at $418.4 million. 

The Boeing 777-9 has a length of 251 feet and 9 inches, a height of 64 feet and 1 inch and a wingspan of 235 feet and 5 inches. It can seat 426 passengers in a two-class configuration and has a range of 7,285 nautical miles (13,500 km). The Boeing 777-8 can carry 384 passengers and is around 239 feet long, but has a longer range (8,730 nautical miles or 16,170 km) than the 777-9.

Also read -- Boeing 777-200LR: Mean machine that India's polar flight heroines flew

The 777X family of Boeing offers growth over the company's 777-300ER. The 777-8 is 15.7 feet shorter than the 777-300ER but has a longer range. The 777-9 is seven feet longer than the 777-300ER and accommodates more passengers, though its range is lesser. The 777X family also has more range than the A350-1000.

Emirates had asked the plane to be put through "hell on earth" during testing so that it can be sure that it is safe and meets performance expectations.