Boeing says it remains fully committed to the development of the ultra-long-range 777-8 variant despite its decision to shelve development to focus on recovering the schedule of the baseline 777-9.

The US manufacturer confirmed in August that it was to “adjust” the -8’s schedule to “[reduce] risk in our development programme, ensuring a more seamless transition to the 777-8”.

The move has fuelled speculation that the manufacturer could terminate development of the variant, which has so far only found niche appeal. To date Boeing has taken orders for 53 -8s from three customers. Total 777X orders stand at 344 aircraft.

However, when challenged by Airbus during a panel at the ISTAT EMEA conference in Berlin last week about the uncertainty hanging over the 777-8, Darren Hulst, Boeing senior manager for market analysis and sales support, robustly restated Boeing’s commitment to the aircraft.

“The 777-8 is absolutely part of the [777X] family, and the key is we want to make the absolute right aircraft for the customers that need it,” he said.

Deliveries of the 777-8 had been due to begin a year after the 777-9, which would have originally meant in mid-2021. However, the ongoing slippage in the -9 programme due to technical issues with its GE Aviation GE9X engines, means that the entire 777X schedule is currently unclear.

Although Boeing is phasing out the current 777 passenger models next year as it transitions to the 777X, production will continue in the near term of the 777F variant which is based on the 777-200LR platform.

Ultimately, Boeing intends to develop a freighter version in the 777X family from the 777-8. Regardless of the 777X freighter plans, Hulst is adamant that “we’ll see a -8 as a passenger airplane, absolutely”.