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.