Debate over the 777X: still studying how far to take improvements
The quest to upgrade the Boeing 777 line, with particular focus on the 777-300ER, is heating up.
The Wall Street Journal has this detailed story. We found it on Google News, so it should be available to all readers but it may turn out to be a subscriber-only story.
Jon Ostrower’s WSJ piece indeed details similar information that we have been told. Flight Global has this story in which Steve Udvar-Hazy, CEO of Air Lease Corp., says Boeing is “gun-shy” about the new program because of the problems with the 787.
There’s more to it than that.
Here’s what we can add from a well-placed source familiar with Boeing’s recent thinking and events.
- Recent customer meetings indicated that the proposed 777-8X isn’t particularly well received. The concept as currently envisioned is actually slightly smaller than the current 777-300ER: 350 passengers vs 365 in three class. Customers are much more favorably inclined toward the 777-9X, envisioned at 407 passengers three class, more than 50 passengers larger than the Airbus A350-1000. The extra capacity goes a long way toward the economics, which according to sources, is targeted for the 9X to be 21% better fuel burn and 15% better operating costs, per seat.
- As a result of such cool reception toward the 777-8X, according to our source familiar with the thinking, Boeing is pondering covering the low end of the 777 class with the 787-10 and proceeding only with the 777-9X.
- The 777-9X would go a long way toward killing the already anemic sales of the 747-8I, even though in three classes Boeing advertises this capacity at 465 passengers. Boeing, however, notes that “Our product strategy focuses on a full array of products with seat count capacity in 15-20 percent increments to provide customers maximum flexibility to adjust capacity. The 747-8 is 15-20% larger than the 777X studies and serves those markets requiring more seating capacity.”
- Plans articulated by Jim Albuagh, former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, to seek Board approval for Authority to Offer (ATO) the X for sale by the end of this year has slipped to the end of 2013 or even early 2014, our source tells us. EIS is still contemplated for 2019. BCA’s new CEO, Ray Conner issued a note to employees following a Seattle Times story which said the program has slowed that it has not. Further, we are told by Boeing in response to this post that the anticipated timeline to seek Board ATO remains late this year or early next, but not as late as the end of 2013. Nonetheless, we did hear the later timeline from a well-placed source.
- Boeing still wants to see what the final design of the A350-1000 becomes. With EIS for this delayed to 2017 (if not longer), there is no rush to make immediate decisions for the X.
- The WSJ article suggests Boeing may elect to stick with metal wings instead of the more expensive and challenging composite solution. We understand that the composite wing remain the favorite but studies retaining the metal wing continue.
We need to emphasize that what may be true today may change tomorrow. The point is that the development of the 777X is fluid. With an extended timeline for the A350-1000, Boeing is in no hurry to make an early decision. The factors reported by the Wall Street Journal and FlightGlobal also are important.
Boeing continues to study whether to proceed with a major makeover of the aircraft–the 777X–or a less dramatic 777+ set of enhancements.
“Just like all other airplane development efforts, it’s an iterative process. We let the data from our studies and the input from our customers drive the best airplane design as we continue our work on this airplane that would enter the market later this decade,” Boeing tells us.
“As we’ve said for the last several months, when we are satisfied with the risks, costs and schedule, we intend to present a plan for offering the airplane to customers that would enter the market late this decade. Teams continue to study the many elements of a complex development process, and we continue to work with customers on their requirements. We are committed to this segment of the market and when we are confident in a plan we can deliver to our customers, we would formally launch the program following additional development work.”
Although Tim Clarke, president of Emirates Airlines, has been vocal in pushing Boeing toward the X model with range that will provide unrestricted non-stop service from Dubai to Los Anglese, this capability is needed for only about 5% of the world’s routes. Boeing (and Airbus) have been open in their reticence to build an airplane for only 5% of the market, considering the return on investment not worth the cost, the weight penalties or engine requirements for so few customers. It remains to be seen, however, what the outcome of the process will be.