Viewpoint

The 777X ramp up begins

There has been a flurry of announcements in recent weeks about Boeing’s newest widebody programme, the 777X, as the long journey to production begins to gather pace.

The OEM yesterday (December 16) broke ground on a second new centre for the production of composite components for the re-engined long-haul jet, while Rockwell Collins and GE Aviation have both confirmed this week that they will be providing avionics equipment for the 777X.

Boeing’s new 34,100m2 composite facility at its St Louis site will work on parts for the 777X’s empennage and its wing, which boasts folding, raked wingtips enabling a wingspan of 71.8m (seven metres longer than the 700-200LR and 700-300ER).

The site is in addition to the $1bn composite facility Boeing is constructing at its Everett plant for the 777X and will include six autoclaves and 700 staff. The St Louis centre will start operations in around two years, in line with the OEM’s plans for the programme to enter into production during 2017 and into service in 2020.

If the programme stays on schedule, the 777X will have moved from concept to the runway in less than seven years. And there certainly seems to be appetite for the twin-engined 350-400 seater.

The 777X was launched at the Dubai Airshow in November 2013 with 259 firm orders – double what Boeing has received in total for its largest widebody the 747-8 since its launch nine years ago.

In the months following the 777X’s launch Boeing has added a further 41 commitments to the order book, with new customers including Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific, while the four-engined 500-seat 747-8 has failed to attract a single commitment.

With the 777X, Boeing is promising an increased range (up to 2,730km more than the 777-300ER), as well as 12 per cent lower fuel consumption and 10 per cent lower operating costs than “its competition” – presumably the A350-900 – with savings provided by the GE9X engine and the 71.8m composite wing.

With more than 300 commitments for the 777X – and bearing in mind the popularity of current models – it makes sense for MROs to start factoring how they can incorporate the new model into their business plans.

Those servicing the 787 have an advantage, not only have they experience with composite components and raked wingtips, but also some of the new aircraft’s avionics systems.

Rockwell Collins, for example, has confirmed that the surveillance and guidance systems it will be providing for the 777X will be the same as those used on the Dreamliner, as will be GE Aviation’s common core system and enhanced airborne flight recorder.

While the 777X’s first flight is some way off, as the old adage says: “The early bird catches the worm.”

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