Taiwan-based EVA Airways has signed a letter of intent with Boeing for seven 777Xs, helping the programme towards its delayed full launch. EVA had opted for the rival ultra-long-range Airbus A340-500.

Although Boeing declines to confirm the deal, EVA's commitment is believed to include four ultra-long haul -200Xs and three of the higher capacity -300X version. Five more aircraft are on option. The two sides are thought to be discussing a trade of 777X orders against part of its fleet. The EVA action, if ratified, crucially overturns a key strategic victory for Airbus in the long-haul Asian market when it secured a similar letter of intent for six A340-500s, which subsequently lapsed. The commitment also means that Boeing has logged sufficient orders to go ahead with the 777-200X/300X.

The company is thought to be pondering a short delay to the official programme launch, however, as it attempts to increase its customer portfolio to create a bigger impact. Other launch customers are believed to include Japan Airlines (JAL), which is known to be seeking board approval to order five 777-300Xs, with options on five more, and Air France, which is thought to have an initial requirement for up to 10 aircraft. Emirates is emerging as a front runner to be included in the -300X launch group, while leasing giants GE Capital Aircraft Services and International Lease Finance are believed to be firm customers.

Boeing Commercial is expected to go to the main board to approve programme launch on 28 February, but is not expected to announce the formal go-ahead until all its launch customers have had time to ratify commitments from their own boards.

Although the imminent Asian Aerospace show could have provided Boeing with a launch showcase, the company is debating the best time to signal programme go-ahead from a strategic perspective. Boeing says: "The first deliveries are in September 2003, which would mean a launch in the first half of this year. Other than that, we are not going into details."

Boeing confirms that its exclusive deal with engine maker General Electric on the 777X is not life limited, but subject to a rolling memorandum of understanding, as has been suggested (Flight International, 25-31 January). The company says a reported extension to the agreement, covering the period beyond a suggested first-quarter cut-off date, is "not needed".

The 777-200X, when launched, is expected to be renamed the 777-200LR, while the 777-300X will become the 777-300ER. As interest continues to be higher in the -300X, it is expected that will fly first, in December 2002, with its longer-range stablemate following four to six months later.

Source: Flight International