Boeing pins high hopes on 777X after successful first test flight
Emirates is a launch customer of the new wide-body aircraft.
Boeing has announced a successful first test flight of the world's largest twin-engined aeroplane with foldable wingtips, the 777X.
The successful maiden flight of the wide-body futuristic airplane is a welcome news for Boeing, which is struggling to come out of the 737 MAX crisis following worldwide grounding of its most profitable aircraft after two fatal incidents that killed 346 people and caused more than $9 billion loss to the company.
The maiden 777X flight, which was rescheduled twice last week due to high winds, took off near Seattle on Saturday and lasted four hours.
If a series of test flights go well in coming weeks, Boeing will officially file for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is expected to scrutinise the plane more than usual following the crashes of 737 Max in 2018 and 2019.
"It's a proud day for us," said Stan Deal, chief executive of Boeing's commercial airplane unit. "It made all of our employees proud one more time of who we are and what we get to do, by flying a brand-new airplane that is going to change the world one more time," he said.
The 777X, as the family is known for 777-8 and 777-9, will undergo thousands of flight test hours before going to start commercial operations in the first quarter of 2021.
The 777X chief test pilot Van Chaney termed the airplane awesome and said flight experience was amazing.
"It was awesome. The moment we lifted off and got into the air, I thought, Man, this is amazing," Chaney told reporters at Seattle's Boeing Field on Saturday.
Emirates, which has a mix of orders for both 777-8 and 777-9 variant for a total of 126 airplanes, is a launch customer of the new aircraft and expected to take delivery of the first 777-9 by early next year.
The airline is the single largest customer of all types of Boeing 777 and is the only carrier in the world to have operated every single model that Boeing has produced.
Other leading airlines including Etihad Airways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines also placed orders for 777X, which lists for $442 million and can fit up to 425 passengers in a two-class configuration.
"The 777X has been designed with Emirates right from the start. The 777X family will allow Emirates to replace early generation 777-200LR and 777-300ER airplanes," Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, told Khaleej Timeson Sunday. He said 777X will also expand to allow Emirates to phase out its ageing A380 fleet, which Airbus will cease production by next year.
"The greater range, fuel and environmental efficiency, alongside lower operating costs and economic advantage will allow airlines like Emirates to exploit 777Xs capabilities to the fullest, particularly on those long-range routes where cargo too is a key revenue driver for the airline - especially to destinations like the US, Europe and Asia," Ahmad added.
Emirates originally launched 777X at the 2013 edition of the Dubai Airshow with a deal for 150 airplanes. At the 2019 Dubai Air Show, Emirates partially swapped some 777X orders for the smaller 787-9 but it will still be far and away the biggest customer of the 777X family. Today, Emirates flies almost 150 Boeing 777s.
The 777X, a larger version of the 777 mini-jumbo, faces its own challenges. Its first flight was originally scheduled to take place in mid-2019, but the company faced delays because of snags with the General Electric GE9X engines, the largest aircraft engine in the world. The 777X is expected to compete in the long-haul aircraft market with the A350 made by Airbus.
"While first flight of the 777-9 has been delayed several months owing to last minute changes to the massive GE9X engines, now that the airplane has taken off for the first time, Boeing can now knuckle down and work towards certifying the jet for passenger service," Ahmad said.
Boeing had 344 firm orders for the 777X at the end of the third quarter, according to a company filing.
The 252-foot-long passenger airplane is the largest twin-engine jet ever built and has a wingspan of more than 235 feet. It features folding wingtips that reduce that width by more than 20 feet so the plane can fit into various airport taxiways and gates.
"This airplane, for me, is the flagship of the big airlines around the world. It's really the marquee airplane," said Wendy Sowers, director of marketing for the 777X.
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