Boeing 777X: Dimensions matter

How the Boeing 777X can keep the popularity which already has while regaining momentum by giving to Boeing some time to unveil the final specs of the airplane

O530 Carris PT
Aug 28, 2017 · 6 min read
The Boeing 777–9, in its most recent configuration. Source: Boeing

The Boeing 777X is a aircraft full of potential, with capabilities like no other aircraft has. But unfortunately, the 777X is being hammered because of lower demand for airplanes like the Boeing 777X and the archrival Airbus A350–1000XWB, whereas the smaller 787s, A350–900XWBs and A330neos still have a considerable demand. Lower oil prices (dropping from the $100s to the $40s) have also eroded the demand for this particular aircraft.

But is not all bad news for the big 777X… This year, the airplane has scored a important order from Singapore Airlines for 20 Boeing 777–9s and still has interest from major airlines, which are indeed interested on the aircraft.

The Operating Empty Weight of the 777–9: A bit higher than some people expected, but new updates are hopeful.

Some people point that one of the 777X problems which the airplane has to overcome is the first value appointed by Boeing as the 777–9’s Operating Empty Weight — 188,200 kilograms (415,000 lbs), claiming that value is too high — I understand, because the 777X has a heavier aluminum fuselage (or a slightly lighter aluminum-lithium), in comparison to Airbus’s A350XWB carbon fibre one. The Airbus A350–1000XWB airplane, the closest rival of the Boeing 777X variants, for the record, has a OEW of 155,000 kilograms (342,000 lbs).

But I still think that is the maximum level for a 2-class airplane, not a 3-class one. Boeing has originally predicted a Operating Empty Weight of 190,000 kilograms (418,900 lbs) for the 777–9, but it pushed back to the original value of 188,200 kilograms (415,000 lbs; a estimation according to Aspire Aviation). However, Boeing may probably have ended up reviewing again the specifications for the airplane, with the standard OEW pushed again to a lower level of 184,600 kilograms (407,000 lbs; a estimation according to Seeking Alpha) — likely because the emergency exits for the airplane being considered only as optional, & also because of additional design considerations which made the airplane slightly lighter. However, the specification for the Operating Empty Weight for the 777–9 are not final yet, despite the configuration freezing in 2015.

Here is a table which compiles the evolution of the operating empty weight values (as well the manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW)):

Range: Does 80% of the required by airlines, with expectation to be totally inside the 8,000 nautical mile “club”.

The range, according to some 777–9 critics (& 777X critics) is also one of the albatrosses of the airplane, much because of the fact that is not a 8,000 nautical mile (14,800 km) airplane as in its full capacity, thus only being with extreme constraints, likewise the 777–8. But, the ULH (Ultra Long-Haul) market is still limited to some flights (likewise the terminated Singapore Airlines’s SQ21/22 flights from Newark to Singapore and vice-versa) which capacity is indeed constrained. 80% of the flights out there are mostly 12,964 km (7,000 nautical miles) and below, thus the need for ULH airplanes is still small.

Plus, the 777–9 specifications for the range are not final yet (likewise many other specifications), thus having a lower estimate of 14,100 km (7,600 nautical miles) — this number could be for an higher density cabin — and a higher estimate of 15,300 km (8,270 nautical miles) — This one is more likely for a 349 seat 3-class airplane, in my opinion. Anyways, the range of the 777–9 will still be higher than the one offered on the 777–300ER in some way. With that, I think the 777–9 makes a de facto incursion into the 8,000 nautical mile “club”.

The Boeing 777–8, despite of the range number being revised to a lower one, has still a better range than the 777–200LR without the auxiliary fuel tanks, even the one with the GE90–115B engine. Still, the 777–8 is a aircraft which won’t have much orders out there because of its extremely high capability, curtailing the sales prospect, restricting it to the Ultra Long-Haul market. But, the 777–8 will still be the base for a freighter which will come 19 months after the passenger version, and the 777–8 already scored more orders than the 777–200LR ever did.

Again, the specifications for the range of the 777–8 are preliminary, but with a lower estimate of 16,100 km (8,700 nautical miles) and a higher estimate of 17,400 km (9,400 nautical miles). Let’s see if the higher estimate could be done without the need of auxiliary fuel tanks.

Here is a table which compares the higher & lower estimates of the Boeing 777–200LR, 777–300ER, 777–8 and 777–9 (with notes):

Probably the factor benefitting the 777–8 and the 777–9 are the fact that they use composites — at the wings, tail and in the General Electric’s GE9X-105B1A engine (including its nacelles and inside the engine) in order to reduce their overall weight, increasing their overall range and overall efficiency, in comparison with the predecessors (Boeing 777–200LR and 777–300ER).

MTOW and overall capability/capacity: A capable airplane like the 777X can be bad for the sales success… or not.

Some of the first misconceptions about the Boeing 777X was about the overall capability of the airplane. Some persons considered the 777X to be too capable for some airlines, in comparison to other airplanes, like the Airbus’s A350–1000XWB. But it seemed to be disproven thanks to the orders by Lufthansa (and no, Lufthansa never ordered 34 Boeing 777–9s, ordered just 20 airplanes, whose options may have dropped), Cathay Pacific, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Singapore Airlines — all for the larger Boeing 777–9, although the 777X club is still open to more.

The Boeing 777–9 in the Singapore Airlines’s livery, one of the customers of the airplane. Source: Boeing

And despite the apparant predominance of the Middle East airlines (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways), the 777X has also attracted the attention of other airlines, as I said, including Qantas of Australia, which is also weighing both the 777–8 and the 777–9, including to replace the Airbus A380 in some routes where the airplane is needed (unlike the Airbus A380, where prospects of a upgraded version seems to be nonexistent, with a scarce demand, with the notable exception of a ME3 carrier — Emirates).

The MTOW of the airplanes part of the 777X family (which was originally of 349,000 kilograms (769,000 lbs), but grew to 351,530 kilograms (775,000 lbs) thanks to the GE9X’s thrust bump), although being the same of the 777–300ER (as it seems to be), will also be capable of carrying tonnes of cargo more than the Airbus A350–1000XWB or the A380, thus making the 777X a family a truly money-making machine, either by the CASM trip-cost advantage against both A350–1000XWB and the A380, with more comfortable seats than the 777–300ER (even at 10-abreast economy) or by a large volume of cargo, thus having a higher level of cargo revenue per flight.

Conclusion: The 777X still has popularity and potential, but there’s still unknowns.

The 777X has it’s raison d’étre because it’s a jumbo-sized twin engined aircraft, which carry similar levels to the 747–400 while retaining important economics of relatively smaller twinjets like the 777–300ER and the 777–200LR. And it retains the familiar shape of the 777 fuselage (it could also be in aluminum-lithium) while also adding longer composite wings (71.9 metres of wingspan) and foldable wingtips (which will reduce the wingspan to 64.8 metres) to be able to use the gates of most of the airports out there, making that also a edge against larger airplanes, including the Airbus A380, as well larger windows and other technologies coming from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

So, is still to early to talk about the 777X popularity, since the airplane was only launched 4 years ago, in my opinion. I think giving some time for the airplane to mature & to be finalised is the right thing to do.

Update of 2017–11–23: Corrected information about the OEW levels of the airplane, reflecting the reading of sources with information on this matter.

That’s what I’ve to say in this article about the future, the potential and the fate of one of the greatest airplanes: the Boeing’s 777X — Please follow me on Twitter (@O530CarrisPT is my username).

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