BOEING IS continuing its intensive effort to push the 777 into service on time after confirming that it has lost Gulf Air's order for six aircraft, with six options.

The Bahrain-based carrier dropped its commitment to the General Electric GE90-powered aircraft after deciding that it would end up with excess capacity.

Separately, however, Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that it has placed a $1 million deposit with Boeing, to secure six 777 delivery, positions for aircraft, with engine choice still to be decided.

Virgin commercial executive director Paul Griffiths says that the airline is primarily interested in larger and longer-range versions of the 777. There is not yet a clear delivery schedule.

Virgin's UK rival, British Airways, expects meanwhile that its first aircraft will pass through London Heathrow in its colours on 20 April, although delivery is not due for some time. The second GE90-powered 777, for British Airways, is expected to be flown this month.

United Airlines began its month-long, service-ready validation of the Boeing 777 on 1 April. United aircrew, mechanics and ground crew will work alongside Boeing personnel during the 90-cycle programme. Boeing pilots retain command authority, but United Staff actually fly and service the aircraft.

The flights are required by the US Federal Aviation Administration as part of the 1,000-cycle validation programme to achieve 180min extended-range twin-engine operations (ETOPS) at entry into service.

FAA associate administrator for regulation and certification Tony Broderick says that "it is almost eerie how well the programme is going".

The aircraft should be type-certificated by mid-April, but Broderick says that it will take "another month or so" for the FAA to complete its analysis of the ETOPS data. A senior BA source says that the UK is prepared to grant 120min ETOPS type-approval.

United hopes that its ETOPS approval will coincide with, or closely follow, entry into service. It wants initially to operate the 777 between London and Washington DC and Frankfurt and Chicago. First delivery is due on 17 May and first revenue flight is scheduled for 7 June.

Rolls Royce has delivered the first Trent 800 to Boeing for installation on a 777, with the first flight scheduled for late May. Flight testing on Boeing's 747 testbed is complete.

Source: Flight International