777 remains stalwart at Boeing

Boeing retains full confidence in the 777 despite the frontal attack by Airbus with its A350 family. News, first broken by Leeham News June 5 in this forum, that Airbus and Rolls-Royce will revise slightly the design of the A350-1000 and the engine powering this model—the direct competitor to the 777-300ER—doesn’t seem to faze Boeing.

Officials have held off any decisions on what to do about the future of the 777 until they fully understand the competitive threat posed by the A350-1000. Company CEO Jim McNerney and Jim Albaugh, the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, others at Boeing and some executives of airlines and lessors said for the better part of a year the -1000 as designed fell short of the performance promised by Airbus.

Rolls-Royce has agreed to increase the thrust of the Trent XWB by 5,000 lbs and Airbus will up the gross weight of the airplane to get another 500nm out of it (to 8,500), we reported June 5. Airbus won’t add any more passengers to the planned 350, however. Details are to be announced at the Paris Air Show, including how much additional gross weight will be added to the airplane and whether the wing will be slightly enlarged. Entry-into-service will slip from 2015 to late 2016, we are told.

The 777-300ER carries 365-370 passengers in three classes and somewhat more cargo 7,930nm.

Airbus officials agree the 777-300ER is a great airplane, saying that Boeing found the “sweet spot” with it. Airbus’ goal is to lay the A350-1000 on top of the -300ER, with 20% less operating cost.

Boeing officials, at the IATA AGM in Singapore, reacted to the news of the revised design and larger engine with equanimity, saying they won’t be rushed into a decision about what to do with the 777.

At Boeing’s press briefing before the RR-Airbus news broke, Nicole Piasecki, VP of Business Development and Strategic Integration, said Boeing is considering an upgrade of the 777-300ER around 2015 and a successor airplane in the 2020 decade. An upgrade might include enhancements to the GE90 engines and a larger wing span, she said.

(Separately, we’ve previously reported that a composite wing and wing box might also be part of an enhancement, along with the usual aerodynamic and weight reduction plans. At the Farnborough Air Show, Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told us it was possible the 777 could be reskinned with composites, although nothing we’ve heard in recent months suggests this remains a serious consideration.)

Boeing is adamant, though, that there won’t be two simultaneous program developments: successors to either the 737 or the 777. The company has appetite for only one at a time. Currently, the thinking is that the new small airplane would come first followed by the 777 successor. But there remains a faction in Boeing that the 777 should come first.

If Boeing re-engines the 737—a prospect that is not dead by any means—then the 777 successor might come first, depending on how Boeing assesses the rejigged A350-1000 and the subsequent sales success.

8 Comments on “777 remains stalwart at Boeing

  1. The 777 family is bigger the the succesfull 300ER.
    The combined backlog for the 777-200, 777-200ER, 200LR = 15, or 2 months of production.

    Is that really an issue? Well, yeah. That’s why the 787-10 is back on the agenda.

    The fact the A350-800 and A350-1000 are rescheduled ~2yrs is good news, but doesn’t prevent Airbus “taking over” the center of the segment, around 300 seats, that used to be dominated by the B777-200ER. The A350-900 and A330-300 seem to have have secured that for the next 5-7 years.

    The 777-300ER has a backlog of 225 aircraft or (at 7 a month production) 32 months, then there is 7 months of 777 LRF production. Aircraft to be delivered after that (2015) are competing directly with the (delayed, upgraded A350-1000) .

    A 777-300ER upgrade (wingtips, GE90 enhancements) will give improvements in the order of 5(?)%. It remains significantly more bulky and heavy then the A350-1000.

    • Isn’t there a “school of thought” in the blogosphere which believes that if a smaller newer generation aircraft has a CASM approaching that of a larger aircraft of an earlier generation, then the new and smaller NG aircraft will nearly always win out?

      If that’s true, couldn’t the A350-900 be a serious threat to the 77W as well?

  2. When Boeing does the B-777 improvement, it will be more significant in operating costs than the 5% you project, Keesje. Boeing has time to decide what to do to the B-777 family as Airbus has yet to fully define the A-350-1000 (or the A-350-800) as proven by the 2 year slip (delay?) in both models. The question remains is: did Airbus have to delay these two models of the A-350 because they found a problem, or more, with the base model A-350-900? I did notice Airbus has said nothing about the A-359R or the A-359F models.

    The backlog of B-777s you like to point out is meaningless. The A-350 models have sold around 540 total aircraft, at 10 per month (the planned full production rate, once they get to it), that is only a backlog of 54 months, or 4.5 years. This nearly compares to the total B-777 production of 42-48 months. So what? You are assuming Boeing will never sell another B-777 model, an assumption that is obviously wrong, and could be proven wrong in the next week or so.

    You could be right, or wrong about the weight difference between the B-777-300ER and the “new” A-350-1000. But we won’t know until Airbus releases more information on the A-3510. What will be the weight difference if Boeing reskins the B-777 with composits and uses composit internal structures, like the wing box, but retains the alumi ribs and wing spars (just like all models of the A-350)?

    Since we don’t know what the ‘new’ A-3510 is, we also don’t know anything about what an improved B-77W will be.

  3. IMHO, the 77W vs. A350-1000 comparisons are not in applicable in the same way as for the A332/A333 vs. 788/789 comparisons. First, the fuselage, wing structure and MLG of the current 77W is designed to support more than 351 metric tonnes at MTOW while on the A350-1000, only 308 metric tonnes need to be supported at MTOW (8400 nm range; pax + bags only)). Also, since the “double bubble,” or ovoid fuselage, of the A350 provides for a much more optimised cross-section with much less wasted space in the crown than the 244-inch diameter circular fuselage of the 777, the A350 requires additional less structure and, of course, will induce significantly less drag. Not mentioning that the GE90-115Bs by-pass-ratio is even less than that of the GE90-94Bs, and that the engine is really “maxed out” sizewise, Boeing seems to have a near impossible task upgrading the 777-300ER to a level where it can be competitive with the A350-1000. It’s true that Boeing can do 10 across with an uncomfortable 17″ seat width on the 777, but the extra space provided for in first and business class in the 777, is as wasteful as the extra space in the crown since very few airlines seem to be willing to accommodate a 2-3-2 in business class anymore hence, the 244-inch diameter circular fuselage of the 777 is no longer as “optimised” for the mission profiles because the fuselage is just too voluminous.

    In comparison, The 222-inch diameter circular fuselage of the A330 wastes little space in the crown and in the areas of a plane set aside for premium passengers. Also, as the 777 will obviously induce more fuselage drag than the A350, for obvious reasons, the A330 will always induce less fuselage drag than the 787 due to the smaller cross-section. Finally, the A330 is performing as well as it does partly because it’s optimised for “medium” range. A very long range aircraft, such as the 777-300ER, is far more sensitive to added structural weight, and will for those reasons, and the others mentioned above, have a hard time competing with the A350-1000 post EIS in 2017. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Boeing to increase 77W production for the next few years in order to sell and produce as many as they possibly can before the A350-1000 enters into service. Now, IMO Boeing should be able to sell enough 77Fs to secure production well into the mid 2020s timeframe.

  4. KCTB, 2 details, the building the 777 backlog begins today, for the A350 in 2 years..

    Then improving the 777 with more then 5% seems ambitious, because IMO the GE90-11X is pretty good, I do not (yet) see game changing improvements on it compared to the GENX (the GENX is evolved GE90 technology says GE). Lightening up the 777 seems also a 1-1.5% question, it’s doesn’t carry lots of dead metal.

    IMO a stretch of ~5m (45 economy seats), radical cabin upgrade (lowerdeck lav / galley options, creative attic solutions, cockpit enhancements, bigger windows, more room for 10 abreast. etc. The 300ER is another 5 meters longer..


    We discussed it during the last few years..

  5. Hello experts. Thinking a bit further: what is the potential for a A330NEO in the next 10 years? Will a geared engine of this size be built or is it even feasible?

  6. I don’t think there will be an A-330NEO program. In 10 years, the B-787 would have already replaced it. The GTF probibly could be upscaled to a size needed for the B-767, B-747, or A-330. But why would you do that when you have the GEnx-2B engine?

  7. A330 reenging is not that likely. Unless Airbus finds out
    – the A350-800 is to heavy for medium flights and too small for long flights,
    – the A330F reengined has lots of potential and
    – a lean medium range A330-300 is wath Asia / Transatlantic wants in significant numbers.

    RR is dominant on the A330 compared to GE and PW. A Trent1000 replacing the Trent700 on A330 could be an option, maybe a additional production line for the new Trents.

    Don’t know how good a A330-200/-300 reengined would look against the A350-800..

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