A growing number of Boeing 777 operators are signalling displeasure over the selection of General Electric as the sole source powerplant supplier for the 777X, as potential launch customers receive offers of the ultra-long-range derivative.

United Airlines has made its disapproval known by unveiling an order for more Pratt & Whitney PW4090 engines to power nine additional 777-200ERs for delivery between next July and March 2002. The "dollar for dollar swap" deal in exchange for seven 747-400s orders increases the carrier's 777 orderbook to 61 aircraft .

According to airline and manufacturer sources the timing of the $235 million engine sale announcement, within days of Boeing concluding an exclusivity deal for the GE90-115B on the 777X, "was not coincidental." United has refrained from publicly criticising the arrangement, but senior sources have privately expressed annoyance.

Sources within American Airlines, a Rolls-Royce Trent 800-powered 777 operator and a long time supporter of a longer-range derivative, suggest that the GE deal "frees us up" from the commitment to buying an all-Boeing fleet to look at "other possibilities."

British Airways, a launch customer for the GE90-powered 777, last year switched allegiance to R-R. The airline has 25 GE90-powered 777s in service and four more on order, but will receive the first of 16 R-R Trent-powered aircraft early next year. Sources within BA say that the airline has not yet formulated a view on the likely impact of the exclusivity deal on its own fleet planning strategy, but the airline will hold meetings with GE, R-R and Boeing to discuss the implications.

Cathay Pacific, which operates 10 R-R Trent powered 777-200/300s and is studying the ultra- long-range derivatives, says GE's exclusive deal "was not welcome". Tony Tyler, Cathay's corporate development director, says that "it is not a decision we were happy with-GE has got quite a lot of work to do to prove to airline customers that it can provide a successful engine. The GE90 is not as good as the Rolls-Royce Trent 800, which has performed well".

Boeing, in the meantime, has begun extending 777-200X and -300X offers to potential launch customers, including an offer of 20 to International Lease Finance and an unknown number to All Nippon Airways.

The latter airline is a PW4000-powered 777 operator and has indicated that it wants to see an engine competition. Boeing aims to launch the programme by the end of the year, at which point, if there is still no commercial go-ahead, its agreement with GE will have to be renewed.

Source: Flight International