DUBAI: Middle Eastern carriers roll out red carpet for 777X

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Middle East airlines gave a warm welcome today for Boeing’s currently homeless 777X family.

As Boeing still searches for a friendly workforce to build the new aircraft, three Middle Eastern carriers combined to sign orders and commitments for 225 777X aircraft on a single day.

Combined with Lufthansa’s previously announced commitment to buy 34 aircraft, Boeing launched the 777X with a record-breaking backlog of 259 orders and pledges.

The size of the orders provoked audible gasps from onlookers in packed press conferences as the overall value of the backlog approached $100 billion at list prices.

“This is a very historic day for Emirates, for Boeing and, I dare say, for the world,” said Boeing chairman and chief executive James McNerney.

The 777X, featuring a composite wing and a pair of GE Aviation GE9X engines, will seek to deliver a 12% fuel efficiency improvement over its nearest competitor – the Airbus A350-1000, McNerney says.

Boeing plans to deliver the first aircraft near the end of the decade. Etihad chief executive James Hogan describes the timing of the first delivery of the 777-9X as “after 2018”, but Boeing executives have framed it as closer to 2020.

The last details of the configuration of the 777X family are still being shaped. But the 777-9X is loosely described as a 400-seat-class aircraft with slightly more range than the 777-300ER. The 777-8X is envisioned as a 350-seater with the stamina to fly a maximum payload up to 9,400nm.

The composite wingspan of the 777X family will stretch 71m (233ft) wide, the longest of any Boeing aircraft. The wings are so wide that Boeing is inserting a folding hinge about 3.35m inboard from the wingtip, allowing the aircraft to be staged at the same gates and taxiways as a 777-300ER.

GE Aviation, meanwhile, is designing the company’s most fuel efficient ever with the GE9X, says chief executive David Joyce.

The GE9X builds on the key technologies introduced by the GEnx engines, including a composite fan case, and the CFM International Leap-1 engine ceries, such ceramic matrix composite materials and a five-stage compressor disc.

The GE9X will feature an 11th stage of compression to drive the overall pressure ratio to 61:1, Joyce says. GE Aviation also is considering expanding the use of CMCs to more complex parts of the engine, such as the second stage blades of the high pressure turbine.

Joyce also confirms the GE9X will not require a water injection system to take-off with a maximum payload during the hottest weather in Dubai. Emirates chief executive Tim Clark had said that GE was considering such a system. Instead, GE and Boeing are looking at boosting the power of the engine. While initially described as a 102,000lb-thrust engine for the 777-9X, the focus is now on a power level around 105,000lb-thrust, Joyce says.

Boeing now is working to identify where its popular new widebody will be assembled. By a 67% margin, the Seattle-area chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) rejected a Boeing labour contract that would have guaranteed assembly of the 777X wing and entire aircraft in the Seattle area.

Boeing is now looking “broadly” to consider alternatives to Seattle for aircraft and wing assembly sites, says Boeing commercial airplanes chief executive Ray Conner. The company hopes to reach a decision within several months, he says.