Assessing the 777 upgrade

The “godfather of leasing,” Steven Udvar-Hazy, the CEO of Air Lease Corp., weighed in on the 737RE and the prospective improvements to the 777 during ALC’s earning’s call. And when Hazy speaks, the industry listens.

Hazy, who favored a new airplane in the 737 class, wasn’t too happy about the 737RE decision and thinks Boeing has a ways to go on developing this aircraft. We’ll have more about this in a separate post.

As for the prospective improvements of the 777, Hazy had this to say:

We have been spending a lot of time with Boeing since the Paris Air Show. We have looked at different scenarios on an improved version of the 777. There are multiple variations. Some involve minor changes, some involve completely new wings, some involve aerodynamic improvements, some involve a brand new engine which GE would have to develop as a follow-on to the GE90.

Some of those options are extremely costly in terms of development cost and would involve significant redesign of the airplane. Others are more what I call band aid solutions to be competitive with the A350-1000. But everything is still on the table and I don’t think Boeing is going to come to any quick decisions on any of those programs because they involve tremendous amount of resources both financial and engineering design resources and I think, first Boeing have to grips with getting 787 flying. I think that’s really the number one goal right now of the company. (Transcript excerpt via Aspire Aviation. See Aspire’s new post on the 747-8.)

Although Hazy’s remarks quickly received press attention, these are possibilities we’ve written about as far back as the Farnborough Air Show in 2010.

We also briefly wrote about 777 enhancements as part of Boeing’s Paris Air Show briefing this year, in which Nicole Piaskeci, VP of Business Development and Strategic Integration, said Boeing was looking at enhancements to the GE90-115B engine and to the wing span of the 777.

One of the reasons Boeing began to lean toward a re-engined 737, even before the Paris Air Show, and by July 18 the odds had shifted from a New Small Airplane to the 737RE. In a post we had on that date, we detailed one of the reasons was a shifting emphasis to twin-aisle development of the 787-10 and enhancements to the 777. Although Boeing made a last-ditch effort to launch the NSA with American Airlines, instead Boeing decided to offer the 737RE to American.

With this as background, we recap the prospective 777 upgrades:

  • The less expensive route is tweaking the GE90-115B engine and reworking the wingspan, as Piasecki noted during the Paris Air Show press briefings;
  • Routine aerodynamic improvements and weight reduction, with increasing use of composites throughout the airplane;
  • More expensive is the prospect of an entirely new engine based on the GEnx (which itself is based on GE90 architecture); and an entirely new wing. We;re talking billions of dollars here in R&B (though far less than a new airplane), going down the path of the 747-8;
  • The prospect of reskinning the airplane seems less likely;
  • Development of a 777-8 (dubbed the 8X at this stage) to replace the 777-200 and of the 777-9 (dubbed the 9X) for the 777-300 replacement; both are merely derivatives; and
  • The prospect of an entirely new airplane also seems unlikely, given the program overhangs of the 787 and 747-8 relating to the production issues still to come for the 787 ramp up and the negative cash flow of both programs.

With Airbus putting off the A350-1000 for two years, and a challenge remaining for the timely entry-into-service for the launch -900 model, Boeing feels it has more time to decide what to do on the 777. At the Farnborough Air Show, Boeing indicated an answer for the 777 by the end of 2010 (as it had with the 737 future). As with the 737, the answer for the 777 keeps sliding to the right. Given the rescheduling of the -1000, we don’t expect Boeing to decide the 777’s future this year.

17 Comments on “Assessing the 777 upgrade

  1. Obviously I’m a big fan of the B777, but by 2020, the B777 program will be 25-30 years old. IMHO, a derivative like the B748 isn’t going to “cut it”. Boeing can “get away” with it on the B748 program as the B748F is the only plane in its class and the VLA market isn’t too large in general. B77W sales have shown this is a market which cannot be ignored.

    http://leehamnews.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/mcboeing-787s-insidious-impact-overwhelm-product-strategy/

    If the A350-1000XWB performs according to stats, it will do to the B77W market what the A321NEO is going to do to the B757-200 market.

    Looking at A350 sales it ostensibly seems that the A359 has indeed been the “B777 killer (at least B77E) which Leahy has previously mentioned.

    I think in the end, Boeing will have to spend a number of billions of $$ to get the B77W program competitive to the A351.

    I guess this goes back to one of Leeham’s previous post of:

    “McBoeing, 787′s insidious impact overwhelm product strategy”

  2. Making new with old would be in in Boeing’s tradition, and also goes well with Jim Albaugh’s personality. Why invest a lot of money on a new aircraft when the old one sells well and just needs a “new paint” and a few bells and whistles.

    Look at the 747. -100, -200, -300, -400, -800. Fift variant.
    Lood at the 737. Classic, NG, RE.

    As long as he’s the head of BCA and probably of Boeing after McNerney gets sacked, Albaugh will continue on the same route. Make old with new. The -8X and -9X will just be good enough to give Airbus a ride for their money.

  3. Well, isn’t that what Airbuse does, F14TCT? The A-32X-NEO is just new bells on it. The A-330 is a ‘spin-off’ airplane from the A-340, and the A-332 is a spin-off of the A333. The A-310 is just a shortened A-300, which itself went through several versions.

    The only new commerical airplanes Airbus has in the last 15 years is the A-380 and the A-350. The A-350 will eventuall come out in at least 5 versions (-900, -800, -900R, -900F, and -1000).

    Boeing also has developed 2 new airplanes within the last 20 years, the B-777 and B-787. The B-777 is now out in 6 versions (-200, -200ER, -300, -300ER, -200LR, and -200LRF).

    Seems like both Boeing and Airbus are doing the same thing. Some years Boeing leads, some years Airbus leads.

    • You need to stop thinking you’re on a godly mission whenever the B word is pronounced, KC. It’s not good for your blood pressure…

      I was not saying anything was right or anything was wrong, but pointing out that out of every option they have, they will most likely go for another iteration to an existing aircraft rather than a new one.

  4. Looking forward to your post on SUH’s comment on the 737RE. It’d probably be along the lines of his comments on the NEO. Whine, whine, complain, complain, and order about a 100+ of them.

  5. The B777-300ER needs a larger wing and a new or seriously upgraded engine.
    The fuselage, well, you can’t do it much better.
    The -200ER/LR is dead then … actually, it is now already.
    Increasing the size might work (-400).
    However, might also become another dead derivative like B767-400ER or the A340-600.
    Both companies have sunk big bunch of cash in widebody upgrades.

  6. While the A310 is indeed a shortened variant of the A300B4, it was followed by the A300B4-600 which introduced fly-by-wire.
    The A330 and A340 were developed in parallel: they share the same fuselage and wings, but have different engines (in number and power). The original A340-200/300 were followed by the -500/-600 version in the early 2000s.
    The A320 lead to the shortened A318 and A319 and lengthened A321 airframes.
    The Neo will be the first major modification to these (excluding the A320-200 deviation from the original A320-100)

    KC135TopBoom :Well, isn’t that what Airbuse does, F14TCT? The A-32X-NEO is just new bells on it. The A-330 is a ‘spin-off’ airplane from the A-340, and the A-332 is a spin-off of the A333. The A-310 is just a shortened A-300, which itself went through several versions.
    The only new commerical airplanes Airbus has in the last 15 years is the A-380 and the A-350. The A-350 will eventuall come out in at least 5 versions (-900, -800, -900R, -900F, and -1000).
    Boeing also has developed 2 new airplanes within the last 20 years, the B-777 and B-787. The B-777 is now out in 6 versions (-200, -200ER, -300, -300ER, -200LR, and -200LRF).
    Seems like both Boeing and Airbus are doing the same thing. Some years Boeing leads, some years Airbus leads.

  7. In February I discussed about the likely target for the 777-9 here: http://wp.me/piMZI-Iz

    In the mean time, the 777-300ER captures more orders this year alone than the A350-1000XWB has done since its launch in 2006.

  8. Airbus has used the same cross-section since the first A300. It is circular, sized by drawing a circle around two LD-3 containers; the height of the containers determined the floor location.

    The result is probably structurally efficient but less than optimal for passengers:
    – max width is below shoulder level, so window-seat passengers are quite close to inwardly-sloping sidewalls
    – as the rear fuselage tapers upward, so does the floor, and so do the window belts. No big deal unless the livery has a narrow window stripe. Bend it with the windows or let the window tops protrude
    – overhead bins are quite low, so much so that before in-seat video, the center bins had to be cut back to allow a projector at the front of a seating area. Mid-zone centerline monitors when extended are head-bangers
    – some airlines [Air Canada’s A340’s for example} tried to make their premium cabin look bigger by eliminating center overhead bins in business class,meaning all center passengers’ carryons went on the floor or in closets
    – there is no overhead space for crew rest, so flight crew bunks used space meant for forward galleys and cabin crew bunks replaced revenue cabin seats or lower lobe revenue cargo.

    Concerning twin-aisle A300 derivatives, the first was the A310, a shortened A300 with a small wing and a two-crew flight deck; the A300-600 had the same flight deck. Neither was fly-by-wire and both had conventional controls. When Airbus tried to make a long-range A310, the wing was too small, so it could not compete with the HGW 767-200ER and -300ER

    The A330 and A340 were as described above, with FBW and CRT displays, based on the A320 architecture. How well that has worked, especially given the results to date of AF447 investigation, is a whole other topic. Once Airbus and its customers discovered the economic benefits of long-range twins, A330-200 and -300 sales took off, the “4 engines 4 long haul” theme kinda faded away, and so did sales of the A340-200 and -300.

    Airline history is full of dead-end derivatives that were too much or too late. Examples the DC-7C, the 1649 Starliner, the DC-8-62, the 747SP, and the 767-400ER. The A340-500 and -600 are in that group. Both had a heavy new wing; the A340-500 was an 800,000 lb MTOW airplane with 50,000 lb SLST engines – a modern version of the 747-200B with fewer seats, but lots of range, especially (like Singapore) with lots of business class and reduced tourist class.. The A340-600 was a last stretch of the 1972 cross-section, sort of a DC-8-61/63 on steroids.

    The A350 will have a new cross section. Stay tuned.

  9. dry505, The A300 was the pioneering big twin.The first to be certified for longer over water flights before ETOPS was invented. It was competing with Boeing 707 at the time. It set new standards in efficiency. Boeing responded with the 767 ten yrs later. The A300 cross section shows it value and eficiency even today, 7-8 a month rolling of the FAL and outselling the 787 for the last few yrs. The A300/A330/A340 cross section IMO set the benchmark. The 767 was a bit to small, just not fiiting the right containres and the 777 too wide, leaving room for an aisle between the containers and a big empty atic. That’s why Boeing made the 787 narrower.

  10. Keesje, I might point out the “to small” fuselarge of the B-767, and the “to wide” fuselarge of the B-777 have each sold over 1000 airplanes. In fact, the “to wide” B-777 has sold some 1235 airplanes (as of July 2011) since it was introduced in in 1990.

    As I understand it, Boeing selected the B-787 crossection, not because the B-767 was “to small” or the B-777 was “to wide”, but because that was the biggest sized barrel sections that could be made in the autoclaves in 2004, when the B-7E7 was launched.

    BTW, it was the B-757/B-767 combo that finally killed the B-707, not the A-300. IIRC the last commerical B-707 delivery was in 1989, and military deliveries (new build E-3s, E-6s, KE-3s) continued until about 1994. Deliveries of the B-707 began in 1958 and continued until 1994, a continous delivery period of 36 years and 1011 aircraft. There were some 560 A-300 deliveries over some 34 years (1974-2007). The B-757 delivered 1050 aircraft over 24 years (1982-2005), and the B-767 has delivered 1005 airplanes (as of July 2011) with deliveries beginning in 1982. To date there have been 1053 B-767s ordered, not including the current order for 4 KC-46A SDD aircraft or the 175 tankers to follow.

  11. ETOPS for twins refers to flight time to the nearest suitable diversion airport at best single-engine cruise speed whether over land or over water. According to a 1999 Airbus briefing ( found at http://www.aerohabitat.eu/uploads/media/ETHIST98.pdf, ) before ETOPS was defined, all twinjets had to be within 90 minutes of a diversion airport at all times during a flight,

    In 1984 an ICAO ETOPS study group amended Annex 6. In 1985 the FAA published the first ETOPS regulations to address 120 minute operations. The first 120-minute ETOPS operations were a TWA 767 on Feb 1 1985 followed by a Singapore A310. In 1988, 180-minute ETOPS was approved. Since then all twins have obtained ETOPS approval, some for up to 240 or 330 minutes.

    The cross section debate between Boeing and Airbus is decades old. Boeing’s practice has been to use different cross sections according to each airplane’s requirements; Airbus has used the same cross section from the medium-range A300 through the long-range A330/340. The A350 became the A350XWB only after prospective customers demanded a wider cross section.

    Concerning the 777 cross section it should be noted that the cargo compartment’s height is equivalent to Airbus’s but the space on either side of the LD-3’s is slightly greater. There is no aisle between the containers. The major differences are cabin width (30 inches wider, with max width at shoulder level, near-vertical sidewalls, and more head clearance to the sidewall) and in the overhead. Recent 777 models increase revenue seating by using the overhead for video equipment, plus flight crew rest in front and cabin crew rest in back. Although the 787 is narrower, it is still wider than the A300-310-330-340 and still offers cabin geometry and overhead space usage similar to the 777.

    The A300 went into airline service in May 1974, followed by:
    767-200 1982
    A310 1983
    767-200ER 1984
    767-300 1986
    767-300ER 1988
    A340 1993
    A330-300 1994
    777-200 1995
    777-200ER 1997
    A330-200 1998
    777-300 1998
    767-400ER 2000
    777-300ER 2004
    777-200LR 2006

    To be followed by the 787 this year, the A350 a few years later, then derivatives of the 777, 787 and A350 in the years to come.

    • Airbus has used the same cross section from the medium-range A300 through the long-range A330/340.

      Not tryin to nitpick, but the A330-300 is a medium range aircraft and the A330-200 is not truly a long range aircraft.

      As you have indicated, the A330/A340 shared the same 222-inch diameter fuselage cross-section as that of the A300 and A310; while the fuselage panels in addition to all of the fuselage frame sections, but not the centre section incorporating the wing carry through box, are built on the same type of jigs, though some have been replaced and/or upgraded since EIS; while the flightdeck, avionics, and digital fly-by-wire flight control system was largely based on those of the A320. Therefore, the major new hardware which Airbus had to develop on the A330/A340 was “only” the MLG and the wing; the latter being quite revolutionary in its design. Consequently, since Airbus maximised the use of the then exsiting A300/A310 production infrastructure for the new A330/A340 programme (A345/A346 excluded), Airbus, “only” had to spend around 3,5-4 billion USD on the project; or about one third of what Boeing reportedly spent on the 777 programme (77L/77W excluded).

      While Boeing in general has been optimising the cross-section of the airframes for all of the widebodies that they have developed, Airbus has been keen to take advantage of existing production infrastructure in addition to maintaining product commonality.

  12. Add to the list above: A340-500 (in service 2003) and the A340-600 in 2002.

    The A330 and A340 were listed as “long-range” relative to the original A300. On that basis the A340-500 and 777-200LR could be designated “longer-range”. Or maybe “longest?”

    Concerning wing planform (excluding internal structural changes as each manufacturer revised gross weight and/or fuel capacity), as Airbus progressed through their twin-aisle programs, there were three basic wings: the A300 series (the A300-600 added wingtip fences and deleted the outboard ailerons), then the small-wing A310, then the all-new A330/340 wing. The A340-500’s and -600’s wing was a major change to the A340 with a full-span chord extension plus extended wingtips and new winglets .

    On the Boeing side, the 767-200’s and -300’s all had the same wing planform; the unsuccessful 767-400ER added the raked wingtips which have since been adapted to subsequent Boeing aircraft. Similarly the 777-200’s and -300’s had the same planform while the -200F, -200LR and -300ER added raked wingtips.

    It will be interesting to see how these long-running commercial programs play out in the years to come. At present, the 767-300ER is still (barely) in production. As for the 777, the -300ER and -200F seem to be where it’s all at, with a few -200LR’s and maybe some -200ER’s on the side. On the Airbus side, it’s all A330-200’s, -200F’s, and -300’s.

    Let’s all convene again in a decade or so for a heated discussion of these programs’ histories plus vigorous critiques of the 787 and A350 and their respective derivatives.

    [A correction to 707 history: the last commercial delivery was in 1979; the last military 707 was in 1991. A total of 1,011 were built including the military variants]

  13. dry505 :
    ETOPS for twins refers to flight time to the nearest suitable diversion airport at best single-engine cruise speed whether over land or over water. According to a 1999 Airbus briefing ( found at http://www.aerohabitat.eu/uploads/media/ETHIST98.pdf, ) before ETOPS was defined, all twinjets had to be within 90 minutes of a diversion airport at all times during a flight,

    I discussed the ETOPS matters in here: http://wp.me/piMZI-1to
    You can also read a book I mentioned here: http://wp.me/piMZI-Yj

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