Airlines were among the first to say that travel, at least travel as we knew it in 2019, won’t be fully returning for years. Analysts predict it could be 2023 before planes are full of passengers jetting off uninhibited to the far reaches of the globe once again, and in the meantime, most airlines are playing the same game. Fewer flights, and smaller, more fuel efficient planes.
The news, to put it lightly, is bad for Boeing.
After a roaring decade of Airbus A350 deliveries for Airbus, and the same for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, airlines are deferring current orders, and rejiggering those left standing to planes they can use now, not later. For the gargantuan Boeing 777X, the largest twin engine plane in the world, the timing couldn’t be worse.
Boeing 777X Production
The Boeing 777X isn’t just bold, with its fold up wingtips to fit in airport boundaries – it’s a massively big aircraft too. Seating for an estimated 426 passengers, or more, was the dream for airlines setting new passenger records in recent years, and they didn’t just like “big”, they loved it.
News of the aircraft alone took in an array of orders from Emirates, Lufthansa and Cathay pacific. On the excitement, ANA, Etihad, British Airways and Singapore Air all joined in.
As airlines looked to retire ageing Boeing 747, Airbus A340 and Airbus A380 fleets, all of which had the now less preferred four engines, Boeing came up with the ultimate single decker for the next generation of flagship flying, with the two largest engines ever manufactured for a commercial jet.
So large, in fact, you could fit the fuselage of a Boeing 737 inside one.
But then, the 777X hit a few snags as the dream of a new Boeing type became closer to reality. The GE engines, which are a modern marvel of engineering were experiencing some initial wear and tear issues, pushing back initial launch dates. Then, of all things, a pressure test blew a door right off, with government authorities watching.
As the first US aircraft to be certified after the Boeing 737 MAX, Reuters reports Boeing is looking at a long road ahead. That long road means further delays.
The 777X was initially hoped to be delivered to launch customers including Emirates as early as 2020, but the delays sent those plans packing for new horizons in 2021. Keen to send older aircraft to the Victorville Boneyard, airlines couldn’t wait, and excitement was building.
Many launch airlines even teased of entirely new cabins and seating concepts for the new flagship aircraft, to celebrate the next generation of semi jumbo jet international flying. But then covid-19 happened, and it all went to pot.
Covid-19 didn’t just decimate airlines balance sheets, it left them with an unspecified amount of time until they may be replenished again, and fewer customers than any other time in modern history willing to board a plane.
For the few destinations most airlines are still able to service, smaller and more fuel efficient aircraft are the name of the game. Emirates is famously bucking the trend, resuming Airbus A380 service to a variety of destinations, and using previous generation Boeing 777 freighters to handle cargo to the rest.
Even before covid-19, Emirates cut 777X orders down by more than 24 aircraft, opting instead to purchase smaller and more nimble Boeing 787 Dreamliners instead. From an original 150 777X tally, Emirates 777X count is down in the low 100’s now.
Cathay Pacific is also rumoured to be inquiring about cutting down its order, or swapping for smaller and more fuel efficient Boeing 787-10 aircraft. Every penny counts when you’re facing multi billion dollar losses, with no clear sign of when that will change.
Airlines find themselves in a precarious position, with flights operating mostly empty, and orders for a plane with a main selling point that it can fit lots, and lots, and lots of passengers. Worse, orders mean drawing money away at a time when none is coming in.
What few customers still exist for the Boeing 777X are asking to delay or defer orders, and with final certification still to come, the sad 2021 pushback becomes a nightmare reality for Boeing with the first anticipated deliveries unexpected to arrive before 2022, at the earliest.
The aerospace company is keen to get planes certified and out the door but it’s just not clear if anyone will be home to accept delivery. Yes, it may be up to three more years before an airline takes delivery of a Boeing 777X. From a promised start date of 2020, it’s bad news all around.