There's been a good amount of discussion generated in the wake of Dubai about how Boeing should respond to the A350-1000. I penned post in early August (To -10 or not to -10) asking this exact question. According to Scott Hamilton's commentary this week, Boeing is toying with the idea of growing the -10 to 380 seats. This would tackle the problem of eroding market share in the 777-300ER seat range and even top the A350-1000 by 30 seats. However, Scott contends that this could be "a stretch too far," hurting the 787 which is optimized for the -8 and -9 market.
A -10 stretched to 380 seats would be a huge aircraft also. Ninety additional seats at 9 abreast with 34 inches per row would add almost 30 feet to the -9 aircraft. Roughly 6 feet short of a 777-300ER with a cross section at a foot and a half less. It would certainly fill the 777-300ER slot.
I had a chance to talk with Scott about this last week, and design optimization was not my only concern about such a big jump between the 787-9 and -10. The folks at Boeing Commercial Airplane marketing have always made the case that the Boeing product line is largely without a significant gap in seating. Ideally, they are able to offer a comprehensive family that can fit the profile for all missions. In Randy Tinseth's market briefing in Dubai, the 787-10 was shown having 301/5 seats. If the 787-10 is sized to 380 seats, this opens up a massive unfilled gap between the -9 and the -10.
The discussion has been centered around the 350 seat market as both Airbus and Boeing vie for orders with Emirates (more -1000s) and QANTAS.
I think this may be the wrong market to be looking at. So, let's look a the numbers.
Almost half of the greater than 400 hundred A350 orders have been for the -900 model sized around 314 seats. The threat isn't to the 777-300ER it's towards the 777-200ER. The -1000 has only been sold to two customers thus far (Qatar and Emirates).
Max Kingsley-Jones talked to Emirates' Tim Clark earlier in the week and revealed this:
"Fifty-eight of the 70 firm A350 orders are replacements for our A330s, A340-300s, 777-200s, and 777-300 Classics," says Clark. "It does not address the retirement of our 777-300ERs post-2016 and we continue to press Boeing for a replacement for those aircraft, despite the A350 order."With the exception of the 300 Classics, what's being described here is an an attack on the original 777 seat market which originally decimated A340 and injured A330 sales. The 777-200ERs have sold anemically as of late and the -900 is the reason.
Airbus' MO has always been to attack the Boeing product line in mid-market life. A330/A340 v. 767, A320 v. 737 classic and now A350 v. 777.
Richard Aboulafia hits the nail on the head:
Boeing may have won the 240/290-seat battle, but it's in danger of falling behind in the equally important 300/350-seat segment.Market protection of 777-200ER market should be Boeing's first priority in the widebody market right now, especially with 777-300ERs selling so well as of late. Boeing would be smart to keep the -10 right where it is. However, this still leaves the question of what to do about the -1000.
So, what's a manufacturer to do?
In the same article by Max Kingsley-Jones, the "777X" enhanced is mentioned, the first time the phrase 777X appears in Flight International since August of 2001. The context was a discussion of GE engines powering a lighter version of the -300ER.
777X oft goes by a different name; Y3. The 320+ seat aircraft codenamed Project Yellowstone inside Boeing. However, I believe that the renewed discussion of a 777X enhanced begins a brand new chapter in the battle for the skies.
I found this gem in the NY Times archive from August of 1990:
Longer wings provide more lift -and thus offer a savings on fuel -than shorter ones, and Boeing's 767X will have a wingspan as great as a 747's even though it will carry 100 fewer passengers... Engineers are also trying to shave pounds off a plane. For instance, they are using more parts made of fiberglass composites, which are lighter and stronger than aluminum. On Boeing's 767X, 10 percent of the plane's weight will consist of the lightweight material, compared with 5 percent on current models.How far we've come. The 767X became the 777. So, will the 777X become the 7#7?
Probably not. The low-cost solution for Boeing to the -1000 is a "half-new" airplane in the 777 family, not the 787 family or an entirely new aircraft. Boeing has spaced its new airplane programs out about 12 to 15 years between first flights. A completely new aircraft would be in the works for first flight around 2018/20. The most likely candidate for the new program is the 737 replacement (aka Y1) which may fly even sooner than that. I think Y3 is farther off, because a full 777-300ER replacement just isn't what the market wants right now. The 777X, flying for the first time around 2014/15, will undoubtedly take advantage of what Boeing learns in the 787 program on composite technology. A significant enough weight reduction and advances in engine technology could give a third generation 777 the longevity it needs to survive the entire first quarter of the century and gives Boeing the answer it's looking for.