Boeing defines 777x models and Airbus bracket strategy

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Boeing executives today defined the 777X as two distinct models that it claims would complete a strategy along with the 787 to bracket the Airbus line-up of widebodies and maintain a five-year lead on carbonfibre composite and electric power technology.

The remarks by Boeing leaders at the company's investor conference in Charleston, South Carolina, provided key new details of the performance and strategy for the 777-8X and 777-9X that are awaiting an official launch later this year.

The 777-9X will likely be the lead variant for an entry into service scheduled around the end of the decade, says Ray Conner, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

"The first one probably be - based on the conversations we had with our customers - would be more focused on the -9 first," Conner says. "That's where the conversations really have focused with the customers."

The 777-9X is designed to carry 40-50 more passengers than the existing 777-300ER, offering 20% less fuel burn and 15% less cost per seat, Conner says.

At the heart of the new model is a new composite wing that will be so long that Boeing is considering folding wingtips, yet also lighter than the aluminium 777-300ER wing. If Boeing leverages the "wing flex" technique pioneered by the 787, the 777 replacement also could have an airfoil that at cruise altitude curls upward at the wingtip to optimize aerodynamic efficiency.

As a result of this composite wing, the 777X would be heavier and yet fly farther than the 777-300ER, despite using a General Electric GE9X turbofan with 13% less power than the latter's GE90-115B engine, says Boeing CEO Jim McNerney.

The combination of the 777X and three 787 models, including the soon-to-be launched 787-10X, should present a difficult challenge for Airbus, McNerney says.

"It will be 5, 6 [or] 7 years before they can respond," McNerney says. "They don't have an aircraft that can compete."

Bank of America aerospace analyst Ronald Epstein, however, asked Conner why Boeing lost out to Airbus when British Airways made a recent commitment to operate 18 A350-1000s as replacements for ageing 747s. The A350-1000 is the head-to-head competitor of the 777-8X.

"We didn't lose," Conner replied. "We weren't completely defined at the timing that they were making their decision. Even with the -1000 [commitment], I still see a strong opportunity for a 777X in our fleet. My only point is that the game is not over yet."