Ultra Long Range Airplane market will limit 777-8 sales

A limited global market for Ultra Long Range Airplanes (ULRA) will limit sales of the Boeing 777-8.

The Boeing Board of Directors is expected to green-light the 777X program this month, with two versions of the airplane: the 350-passenger 777-8 and the 406-passenger 777-9. The 777-8 will have a range of about 9,400nm and the -9 a range about 1,000nm less.

The 777-8, an Ultra-Long Range Aircraft, is known within the industry as “Tim Clark’s airplane.” Clark is the president of Emirates Airlines and for years has been urging Airbus and Boeing to develop a plane with ultra-long range that can fly from Dubai to Los Angeles with a full payload. The absence of this ability is one reason why he has not purchased the 747-8I.

Reaction to the 777-8X in customer meetings sponsored by Boeing has been tepid. The 777-8X has been viewed as a niche airplane that will not compete effectively against the Airbus A350-1000, which nominally carriers 350 passengers but has a range of about 8,400nm.

Customer reaction, we are told by some of those in attendance at these meetings, has been that the 8X is a highly niche aircraft that will be needed on only 5% of the world’s routes. It will be too heavy and too costly for most operations, and uncompetitive with the A350-1000.

Sales of ULRAs have always been limited. (The definition has also evolved. The Boeing 747SP, Lockheed L-1011-500 and Douglas DC-8-62 ranges of 5,200-5,300 miles and were considered ULRAs in their day.)


Range Aircraft











The DC-8-62 sales included combination passenger/cargo airplanes, which boosted orders by 16. Without these, there were 51 sales.

Boeing intends to offer a 777-8 “Lite,” a version that reduces engine thrust, MTOW and range for those airlines that don’t need the maximum payload and range desired by Tim Clark. Airbus recently launched an A330-300 Lite with about half the range of the current -300 and a density of up to 400 passengers intended for domestic China, US and intra-continental routes. This may make the 8X more competitive with the A350-1000 and increase sales. Boeing also plans to eventually offer a 777-8F.

Sales of the 777LR fall within the historical range of ULRAs. Few have been ordered in recent years, suggesting that the 777LR market is mature and the ULRA market overall is around 50-60 aircraft, based on historical sales.

Customer Name


Order Date


Delta Air Lines




Delta Air Lines




Pakistan  Airlines




Air Canada








Air India




Qatar Airways




Delta Air Lines




Delta Air Lines




Turkmenistan Airlines




Delta Air Lines








VIP Customer




Ethiopian Airlines




Air Austral




Qatar Airways




Turkmenistan Airlines




Ethiopian Airlines




Republic of Iraq




VIP Customer




Source: Boeing

It doesn’t appear to us that the 777-8 will be much more than a niche aircraft.

38 Comments on “Ultra Long Range Airplane market will limit 777-8 sales

  1. Nothing new.

    Everyone knows that the 777-8X will occupy a limited market.

    This is not a secret …

  2. You keep comparing the 777-8X to the A350-900. The competing plane base on cabin floor or passenger capacity is A350-1000. 777-300er is 11 inches wider than the XWB. 777-8 and 9 will be 15 inches wider. I like both manufacturer but BOEING is winning the wide body market easily.

  3. Scott: Don’t you mean the A350-1000 has 350 seats? The A350-1000 has a stated range of 8,400nm.

    “The 777-8X has been viewed as a niche airplane that will not compete effectively against the Airbus A350-900, which nominally carriers 350 passengers but has a range of about 8,100nm.”

    Its worth mentioning that these very efficient aircraft fly further per t than previous generation aircraft so the reverse is also true, for every ton added to the aircraft more miles are lost versus previous generation aircraft. Cargo will be more limited. The 777-8 is not the same as the 77L.

      • Sorry I piled on a little; I should have hit refresh. Great analysis as always Scott. I enjoy reading your work.

    • Your point about the payload/range characteristics of the new planes is very important. While the 78J is touted as a 7000 nm mile plane and the 359/35J are touted at 8000-8500 nm planes, the realistic ranges with real world pax+cargo and reserves are roughly 4500nm and 5500nm respectively. The there is a big difference in the fuel vs payload tradeoff vs older planes.

      The 779 should be able to do in the range of 6000-6500 nmi at reasonable real world loads. The 778 should be able to do realistic 7000-8000 nm routes.

      So while the 778 will certain still be a niche aircraft, it will be a niche that has more demand. Another factor in the 778s favor is the cost of do these flights will be significantly lower than previous airplanes and the revenues should also be significantly higher. LHR-SYD is still out, but it makes doing SIN-LAX/NYC and DXB-SFO/LAX/LAS/IAH more profitable compared to say EK doing west and southwest US flights with a 77W with empty cargo holds and blocked out seats.

  4. There is no argument – the ULR market is definitely a very small one. There are however two relevant questions :

    – With an aircraft tailored to their needs, how many 778s might Gulf carriers, especially EK, order ? The answer should be known pretty soon.

    – The 778 should enable the development of a freighter in the future. What could be the market of that aircraft ? I don’t think we can answer that question now.

    • From above:

      Emirates 777-200LR 21-Nov-05 10

      I think that sums it up.

  5. Clark has said that the -8X wll be as important to EK as the -9X. He also said the other day, after the LH -9X order, that he is satisfied with the tech specs of the 8/9X, and is now talking price with B. With 175 777s to replace with -1000s and -8/9Xs, the LR may produce sales greater than 20 or 30, and EK may split the order between LR and “lite.”

  6. I think it is also worth noting that the 77L is structurally similar to the 77F, which has sold twice as many aircraft as the 77L and combined their sales do not look as meager.

    The 778X should accomplish something similar with the A350 lacking the wing/thrust to accomplish similar payload/ranges out of the A351 and will therefore have to create a smaller A359F down the road. Should the dedicated freighter market ever rebound, and if Boeing thoughtfully executes it this could be a sought after aircraft machine.

    The A332 had higher fuel burn than the 764 but its added range and cargo capability made it many times more successful. As close as the 778 can get to the A351 in fuel burn the more likely some will decide for the more capable aircraft.

    I agree the A351 should resoundingly outsell the 778.

  7. Anyone who thinks that the A351 won’t outsell the B778X by a good margin is simply drinking the Boeing koolaid or not understanding market dynamics.

    The B779X, B778X and B778F together will do well for Boeing and that’s the whole point of offering all 3.

  8. Since it’s going to be one half of a family and since it seems like the -9X is going to be a run away success(or so we’re told at least), could it be worth it if EK could guarantee let’s say 50-70 orders over the programme’s lifetime? And who knows Boeing might score another 50 orders, making about 100-150 in total, which I guess won’t be that bad?

  9. In terms of fuel economy, I really don’t really get ‘Lite’ unless the MEW is reduced?

    Previous posts have indicated that these ‘Lite’ platforms won’t have any ‘hardware’ changes eg.

    With the same weight of airframe, engines etc., I don’t get the physics!

    Would a 777-8x ‘lite’ (or A330 ‘lite’) be any more fuel efficient than a ‘normal’ 777-8x (or A330) if each carried the same payload?

    • The A330-300 Lite saves weight by removal of some of galleys and lavs not needed for a short-haul flight. One presumes this would be the case for other Lite airplanes.

      • So all the A350-1000 has to do is offer ‘galley and lav removal’ and it’s just as far ahead of the 777-8x again!

        Sorry, but I’m still not persuaded that ‘Lite’ is anything more than marketing ‘spin’.

      • Surely you can remove galleys and lavs on the standard version as well. I see these lite versions as papered engines to ensure lower maintenance, lower landing fees, and lower capital costs.

      • Any 777-8X “lite” is going to have a wing and engines that are bigger than they need to be and will be carrying that excess weight around. The whole concept of producing a “lite” version of an ULH platform is an oxymoron.

      • Agreed, but how does offering a 777-8x ‘lite’ make it more competitive against the A350-1000 (which I assume can just as easily offer a ‘lite’ version)?

      • The article above states:

        “Boeing intends to offer a 777-8 “Lite,” … This may make the 8X more competitive with the A350-1000 and increase sales. ”

        That’s the issue I don’t get..?

    • Excess airframe weight on short range flights is much less of an issue than on long range flights. Comparing, therefore, a 777-8X “lite” to the “new” regional A330-300 is IMHO a relatively meaningless exercise.

      • Excess weight is enough of an issue in that carriers preferred the A333 (such as SQ) over the B77E/B77A.

      • True, but we were talking about comparing the A333 to a “lite” version of an ultra long range (ULR) C-market aircraft and not the A-market and B-market 77E/77A. 😉

  10. It think it would be better if Boeing could offer 2 competitive 777X models. Airline generally don’t like one trick pony’s.

    • The A380 is niche but competitive. I don’t see why the -8x if EK orders 40+ wouldn’t carry similar status even without the freighter which should easily make the model qualify. The 77W will be around for a long time and will probably be sold alongside the 77F until ~2025 plus shared pilot rating with the 787 and there will be a decent amount of those.

      If the 777-9x is successful the wing/engines are plenty substantial to handle a capacity-for-range-simple stretch. The MLG would need attention for rotation angle purposes but surely the physics are not insurmountable.

      • At 76 meters in length, there is not much scope for producing a stretched version of the 777-9X given that 80 meters is essentially the limit. Any advantage of such a minor stretch would be modest and likely not justify the engineering complexities and cost. This is the downside of producing a platform with the primary model so close to 80 meters in length. Most platform grow in length over time – the 777X can’t.

  11. Who on earth wants to fly these extended sectors without a pit stop & only two power plants, unless your up front most people (but not carriers) would prefer a fuel stop to grab some duty free, stretch their legs, get the circulation going again in some anonymous hub terminal.

    I seems the few ME fantasy carriers are calling the tune, manufactures will of course listen to the majority.

  12. Funny how the A330 is being dismissed as too old by some, who at the same time are playing upt the NEO (or MAX, if you insist) version of the 777.

    Yet both aircraft were developed around the same time (A330 is maybe 2 years older then the 777).

  13. On a side topic, is it possible that the new wing will later (say 5-10 years) be joined by a completely new fuselage, spiral development fashion? Smooths out the cashflow, derisks some elements etc.

    • In order to use a common wing shared by two different platforms, IMO the lower lobe should be nearly identical so the critical centre wing box and the wing carry-through structure. If the size of the lower lobe is increased in a wider fuselage, the wing carry-through structure will have to be wider as well. BTW, in the following link, I’ve outlined how a common wing could be used on an A360X and A370X.


      • That should be nearly identical to the critical centre wing box and the wing carry-through structure.

      • Correction above was wrong. Trying again: 🙂

        IMO the lower lobe should be nearly identical so that the critical centre wing box and the wing carry-through structure can be the same on both frames.

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  16. The ultra-long range market, although small, it evolved over time. Lockheed’s L-1649 Starliner was considered an ultra-long range airplane at the time of its launch, but airlines were not interested in such a plane whose range was too big at the time. The DC-8-62’s range was too big at the time, airlines instead purchased the 707-320B, which was the most popular jet airliner. The Boeing 747SP was a pioneer making non-stop transpacific flights, but the 1970s oil crises made such an aircraft uneconomical to operate. Lockheed’s L-1011-500 TriStar was a very latecomer, when airplane designers were drifting towards twinjets. And the Boeing 777LR and the A340-500 both were too advanced for its time. Thus, ultra-long haul flights were mostly a niche market.

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