Aircraft manufacturing giant, Boeing, is gearing up for the first commercial flight of their new 777X aircraft. The type is currently in testing at the moment and setbacks have pushed the date of the first delivery back many times. Boeing originally planned for deliveries of the type to begin in 2020, yet now they aren't set to start occurring until late 2023. So why are there so many setbacks, and are these setbacks a warning sign for airlines looking to order the type?
The 777X program started in 2011 when Boeing started to develop the aircraft. However, the first flight did not occur until early 2020 when it was originally scheduled for 2018. The main problem was the engines. The newest and largest engine that General Electric (GE) makes is the GE9X engine. It is the larger engine ever produced and each engine produces a whopping 105,000 pounds of thrust.
The aircraft has also had problems with other tests. During a stress test in 2019, the fuselage of the airplane split in half. An explosive depressurization of the aircraft is what caused the break according to the Seattle Times. This did set back the program, but not as much as expected as the anomaly occurred at 1% less than max stress on the airframe.
Currently, Boeing has 320 orders for the type coming from ANA, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, Qatar, and Singapore Airlines. The largest order comes from Emirates with 115 aircraft on order. At the end of 2020, the manufacturer had 309 orders for the type, but now there are 320. The reason for the increase was due to Singapore Airlines swapping their 14 787-10s for 11 777x aircraft.
The aircraft type has received very few orders compared to the number that the more popular 787 series got. The main reason for that is due to 787 production moving a lot faster and the program moving a lot quicker. The 787 is also smaller with less range than the 777X, so airlines that do not operate ultra-long-haul flights like Singapore Airlines and Qatar opted for that type.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boeing received a lot of rejected deliveries and had to slow down its production lines. Airlines realized that widebody aircraft might not be the answer in the future. With new aircraft like the A321XLR having the capability to fly from the East Coast of the U.S. to Europe, widebody aircraft might be the thing of the past. The Boeing 777X might be the last widebody ever with single-aisle aircraft becoming more and more useful for airlines.
So is the program profitable? As with most aircraft programs, the aircraft gets developed first and tested. Once testing is completed, deliveries can start for the manufacturer. After orders are fulfilled, the airlines will pay Boeing for the plane that they receive. But with all of the major setbacks in the program, how long has Boeing been in debt? Boeing will usually set aside money from previous aircraft orders to start the development of a new aircraft, but they only had budgeted enough money to develop the plane until the date of the first delivery. So Boeing will probably be in the red with the program sometime later this year.
The 777-9 costs $425.8 million at a base price without a custom interior. While the smaller 777-8 costs $394.9 million. The company can not make any of that money until deliveries start upon the type. With Boeing losing $11.9 billion last year, a write-up came from the 777X program for $6.5 billion. The write-up came due to multiple design changes in the engineering of the aircraft. David Calhoun, Chief Executive for Boeing, said that they needed to change the "actuator control logistics."
Overall, the program is in deep trouble, with multiple blows coming to the program throughout the years the aircraft has been in development. The company has seen their most major hit come from the COVID-19 pandemic with the large carriers who ordered the 777X deferring orders until they can get back on their feet. Boeing will most likely find a way to get back on their feet with the program because like so many other aircraft that seem to fail in the early stages of production, once the type is proven to work for airlines around the world, other airlines will jump onto the type and orders will begin to pick up.
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