DUBAI AIRSHOW — Boeing officially launched the 777X Sunday morning in Dubai, with each of the Gulf Big Three carriers placing substantial orders.
Etihad went first, placing an order for 25 of the airplanes plus twelve options. The order is split between 17 of the 777-9X and 8 777-8X aircraft. The -8X order posting the Abu Dhabi-based carrier as the launch customer of the type. The order came as part of a larger deal that saw the carrier purchase 30 787-10 airplanes, sealing the 1,000th order for the Dreamliner.
Emirates followed less than hour later in a standing room only press conference that included UAE Prime Minister His Highness Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum. The Dubai-based carrier placed an astoundingly large order for 150 777X aircraft, valued at an eye-popping $76 billion at list prices, plus options for up to fifty more. The order will be split between 115 777-9X and 35 of the -8X. It is the biggest single order Boeing has ever received.
Qatar Airways, in a joint conference with Emirates, pulled up the rear, announcing orders for fifty 777X aircraft of their own. CEO Al Baker noted that despite telling reporters Qatar would not purchase the airplane, he decided to order them anyway.
Engine manufacturer General Electric come out a huge winner in the deals, with each of the three choosing the company’s GE-9X engine.
The orders join an existing order for 34 Boeing 777-9X placed by Lufthansa in mid-September.
The four carriers will make up the launch customers for the airplane, which is expected to enter service in 2020. Between the four, Boeing snagged the largest product launch in commercial jetliner history in terms of dollar value. Between 777X orders and commitments from Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Emirates, the combined value of the agreements is more than $95 billion at list prices though undisclosed heavy discounts are applied to launch customers.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Ray Conner touted today that the 777X will be able to do everything the 777-300ER does today, but with greater capacity on the -9X or with equal capacity and greater range with the -8X. The -9X is expected to carry up to 400 passengers with a range of 8,200 nautical miles. The second member of the family, the 777-8X is anticipated to have a seat capacity of 350 passengers. It will ultimately be capable of flying over 9,300 nautical miles non-stop.
Both are expected to utilize folding wing tips to enable the airplane, whose composite based wing’s wingspan is expected to be over 233 feet, to operate out of existing airports. The 777-8X is a direct competitor to the A350-1000 as well as a replacement to Boeing’s popular 777-300ER. The -9X is in size class all of its own, according to Boeing. The 777-9X will boast the longest length and wingspan ever on a Boeing product. All models will have larger windows, a wider cabin via new side-wall designs, and a new architecture design inspired by the Dreamliner.
The777X is expected to enter service in 2020.
The record shattering orders convey an exceptional vote of confidence in the airplane, which is currently struggling to find a home. Boeing had offered its Puget Sound plant first dibs at building the airplane in exchange for deep personal benefit cuts. Unions balked at the plan and its presentation, voting resoundingly against the contract proposal by a two to one margin.
The vote has left the home of the new airplane up in the air as the show and official launch begins. Several alternative locations are thought to be in the running, including Huntsville, Alabama; Long Beach, California; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Yet industry experts and analysts, ourselves included, have contended that Boeing would have trouble getting the highly advanced operation underway anywhere else, especially following the highly publicized 787 debacles. But Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner deflected the question today, saying simply that the company would “not put that [production] at risk”.