Boeing is in negotiations with a selected group of "tier one" airlines and leasing companies about deals for the 777X and is optimistic of meeting its launch schedule of the last quarter of this year for the General Electric GE90-powered twinjet, with a minimum of 35 firm commitments.

The group is believed to include Air France, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines and leasing company GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS).

Boeing plans to get a firm launch commitment by the end of December, as GE sets up a permanent team of engineering personnel in Seattle to begin work on the GE90-115B/777X integration effort. The year-end deadline is to ensure that the 777-300X is put into service as early as September 2003 and the -200X by January 2004. The longer -300X is expected to be launched first, as most of the group seek a 747 replacement.

The 777X contenders are being offered the 115,000lb-thrust (512kN) GE90-115B as the only engine choice. Of the initial airline group, however, only Air France is a GE90 customer. The others are Rolls-Royce Trent 800 users, apart from Pratt & Whitney PW4000 customer ANA. Boeing acknowledges that the sales teams "have got a lot of work to do with some of these customers", referring to the challenge of overcoming brand loyalty and technical preference. No details of the projected fleet requirements have been confirmed, although Air France is believed to be considering up to 16 777-300Xs to replace 747s. Overall numbers for the five airlines and GECAS are thought to be near 50.

Boeing aims to convince the group of the technical merits of the GE90/777X combination. It claims that "the 777X can fly Los Angeles to Singapore non-stop with a better payload than the Airbus A340-500". Although firm figures on projected performance are not available, Boeing is believed to be claiming a 6.5% relative trip-cost advantage for the -200X over the A340-500 and a 5% trip-cost advantage for the -300X over the A340-600. Seat kilometre cost differences are claimed to be substantial, with a 14% advantage over the A340-500 for the -200X and a "15% plus" difference over the A340-600 for the 777-300X.

These figures are based on a 16,100km (8,700nm)-range 777-200X with derated 110,000lb-thrust engines and a 13,415km range -300X with 115,000lb-thrust units. Both are expected to have maximum take-off weights of 340.5t (750,000lb), a 64.8m (213ft) wingspan and baseline fuel capacity of 181,500litres (47,890 USgal).

Source: Flight International