The latest member to join the Boeing 777 family, and the first of the 777X family, made its debut at the beginning of September. The first prototype B777-9 exited the planemaker’s assembly plant in Washington to undergo its static tests on its way to a maiden flight in 2019 and an eventual entry to service. But what is so interesting about this plane? B777X aircraft are large planes in a time when small aircraft are in high demand and jumbo jets land in boneyards.
It was January 21, 1970 when B747 officially entered commercial service with now-defunct airline Pan Am. This aircraft, the first jumbo, was the first wide-body, twin-aisle passenger jet to roam the skies and had a huge impact on global aviation. According to Howard Slutsken of CNN Travel, B747 drove exponential growth in air travel, tourism and connections by cutting the cost of flying by half. The largest member of this aircraft family, the biblically-proportioned B747-8, could transport up to 515 passengers plus crew in a three-cabin configuration for up to 14,320km. Fast-forward 48 years and the last “Queen of the Skies” in the Delta fleet landed in Arizona never to take off again. It was the end of an era in aviation. No US commercial airline would ever again employ this four-engine behemoth into commercial service.
Airlines seem to be moving away from large aircraft and may continue to do so. According to Airbus’ Global Market Forecast 2018 – 2035, only four percent (1,590 units) of the 37,400 aircraft that will be required over the next 20 years belong to the XL segment. On the contrary, 76 percent of the aircraft demand expected by Airbus will be in the small segment (28,550 units). Airbus has experienced the decline in demand for large aircraft first-hand. As the manufacturer of the largest passenger aircraft in service, Airbus was ready to shut down the production of its superjumbo A380 in January due to lack of new orders for this plane. This decision was reconsidered after Emirates placed a firm order for 20 A380s with the option to purchase 16 more.
Similarly, while Boeing’s Commercial Market Outlook 2018 – 2037 forecasts a demand for 42,700 new aircraft by 2037 with smaller single-aisle being the most sought-after type (74 percent of the forecasted demand). Boeing, however, expects a larger demand for sizeable planes than Airbus. The US planemaker forecasts that 8,100 passenger widebody aircrafts will be needed by 2037, which amounts to 18.9 percent of the projected demand.
According to Boeing’s forecasts, larger passenger widebodies will retain their importance in worldwide fleets due to high-demand markets, the global superconnector business model, airport congestion and airspace constraints. The company seems to be preparing to bring new aircraft to the table to attack that market and the B777X family members are among them.
Two aircraft form the B777X family: B777-8 and B777-9. According to Boeing, they will be both the largest and the most efficient twin-engine jets in the market and have a cabin inspired by the amenities of the B787 Dreamliner. Among the new features that the B777X family include are larger windows and a wider, more silent cabin with advanced LED lighting and a stylish interior design.
In terms of powertrain, both aircraft will be thrusted by General Electric Aviation’s GE9X jet engines, which offer an improvement of 10 percent in fuel burn compared to the previous engine, reduce emissions by 29 percent and make less noise. Additionally, B777X are the first aircraft whose composite wingtips fold open in the air to improve aerodynamics. Boeing reports that B777X is 12 percent more efficient than competitor Airbus’s A350-1000 thanks to being five percent more aerodynamic.
The differences between B777-8 and B777-9 are in seat capacity, range, size and price. B777-8 can carry 365 passengers in a two-class cabin configuration over a maximum range of 16,090km. It is also 70m-long and has a list price of US$360.5 million. On the other hand, B777-9 is 7m longer than its sister, which enables it to carry 414 passengers but its range is shorter (13,940km) and its list price is higher at US$388.7 million.
B777X reached the market in May 2013 when it became possible to place orders for that aircraft. Between that moment and June 2018, Boeing’s backlog for these aircraft amounted to 326 airplanes including orders by airlines ANA, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. The first delivery of a B777X (a B777-9) is planned to take place in 2020 followed by B777-8 two years later.
The first prototype of B777-9 that rolled out of Boeing’s facility will spend about a year being tested to verify the design and strength of its structure as another prototype is manufactured. This second aircraft will be used to perform flight tests at the beginning of 2019.
Boeing truly went big with this plane family. Not only is B777-9 the largest plane in the company’s commercial aircraft lineup, but its sister B777-8 is projected to have the longest range of any Boeing craft. The company is putting its money where its market forecast is.
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