MIAMI — The first Boeing 777-300ER conducted its maiden flight on February 24, 2003 from Paine Field, just over three months after its November 14, 2002 rollout from the famed Everett Plant.
To date, 539 out of 768 -300ERs orders have been delivered, making this variant account for 55 percent of all passenger versions of the 777 since the first one entered service in 1995. This clearly makes it the most successful member of the family, with the -200ER coming in a distant second, with 422 fulfilled orders. On this Flashback Friday, we celebrate 12 years of the -300ER and 15 years since the launch of this upgrade by examining this giant among all twinjets.
By the late 1990s, Boeing was actively looking into extending the range of the very successful 777, which had been in service almost five years. In 1999, Boeing and engine manufacturers discussed development of an power plant capable of delivering more than 100,000 lbf (440 kN) of thrust. General Electric (GE) eventually won exclusive rights to power the longer-range models of the 777. Boeing formally launched the new variants, the -300ER, -200LR, and -200 LRF, on February 29, 2000.
Before the introduction of the 777-300ER, the longest-range twinjet was the 777-200ER, which was capable of carrying 314 passengers in a typical three-class layout up to 7,725 nmi (8,892 mi or 14,310 km) with 5,720 cu ft (162 cu m) of cargo. In comparison, the -300ER can carry 386 passengers in three classes at is maximum range of 7,825 nmi (9,005 mi or 14,490 km) with a cargo of 7,640 cu ft (216 cu m). In addition, the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the -200ER is 656,000 lb (297,550 kg), while the -300ER’s MTOW is 775,000 lb (351,500 kg). Furthermore, this resulted in similar operating costs between both models, making the -300ER a very attractive option, especially in terms of increased revenue, for existing and potential 777 customers at the time.
The 777-300ER, 200-LR, and -200LRF belong to the second generation of the 777 family, the first being the -200, -200ER, and -300. Moreover, this second generation is approximately 35 percent different than the original. Changes include a 6.5 ft (1.98 m) wing extension with the addition of raked wingtips that reduce takeoff distance, increase climb performance, and reduce fuel burn. Among other changes are a strengthened structure and new wheels, tires, and brakes on the main landing gear. Furthermore, Boeing implemented software enhancements for tail-strike protection.
A key change on the 777-300ER, including its -200LR and -200LRF siblings, is the sole use of the world’s largest engine, the GE90-115B1, with 115,300 lbf (512kN) of thrust. The -200LR uses a derated GE90-110B1. The first generation had engine options from GE, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce. Along with the improved aerodynamics offered by the redesigned wing, the GE90-115B1 contributed to a 10,000 ft (3,050 m) takeoff roll at sea level, compared to the typical 11,100 ft (3,380 m) one needed by the smaller -200ER.
Air France became the launch customer of the 777-300ER and received the aircraft on April 29, 2004 after the airplane completed 14 months of testing and certification. Within two weeks, Air France had the aircraft in service on May 10, 2004. Today, Emirates is the largest -300ER operator with 110 examples in service, followed by Cathay Pacific with 45, and original customer Air France with 37.
The 777-300ER is very prolific in the Middle East and Asia. There are also operators in Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In the Americas, the -300ER is operated by Brazilian airline TAM and by Air Canada. The U.S. was a latecomer, considering American Airlines became the first, and so far only, operator in that country, in early 2013. Furthermore, United Airlines is considering converting some existing 787 orders to the -300ER to help the airline replace its 747-400s.
The 777-300ER, as well as the rest of the 777 family, has an ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) 330 rating, which means it can be up to 330 minutes away from a suitable airfield in case of engine failure or cabin decompression. Furthermore, ETOPS-330 and operating costs make the 777 far more preferable to quad-engine jets. For example, the success of the -300ER no doubt contributed to the demise of the Airbus A340-500 and -600 programs, which have roughly 20 percent higher seat-mile and fuel burn costs.
With the development of the 777-300ER and -200LR, Boeing also took optimizing passenger and cargo space into account. As a result, it installed crew rest areas in the fuselage above the passenger cabin, a change from either using the cargo area or using designated passenger seats. In addition, Boeing claims this makes up to six LD-3 cargo containers or four to seven passenger seats available for revenue usage.
After introducing the 787, and with Airbus launching the A350 program, Boeing anticipated increased competition and looked for ways to improve the 777-300ER though performance improvement packages (PIPs), which were first introduced for the -300ER in 2005. Working with GE, the company introduced an engine and aerodynamics PIP in order to reduce drag and weight. Since the -300ER entered service in 2004, a series of PIPs have improved fuel burn by 3.6 percent.
Boeing estimates that each percentage point of fuel burn improvement amounts to either an extra 75 nmi (86 mi or 140 km) of range, 10 more passengers, or 2,400 additional pounds (1,089 kg) of cargo. PIPs can be installed retroactively and are included in newer models. Moreover, in 2010, the manufacturer increased maximum zero-fuel weight by 5,000 lb (2,300 kg), and the engines received a 1 to 2.5 percent thrust enhancement for increased takeoff weights at higher-altitude airports. Boeing has implemented these PIPs in the -200LR and -200LRF, as well as the first generation models.
With the introduction of the next generation of 777s, currently referred to as the 777-8X and -9X, Boeing has put pressure on itself to keep the current 777 running to avoid a production gap, especially in the 2018 to 2020 timeframe. Currently 8.3 of the aircraft rollout of Everett each month, and there is a backlog for 229 -300ERs and 44 -200LRFs. The company is looking to maintain customer interest in the current generation by offering new PIPs, as well as discounts. In addition the next PIP between Boeing and GE for current 777s aims for a 2 percent improvement in fuel efficiency starting in 2016.
The future promises to be exciting for the 777 program. The third generation of 777s, known as the 777X, consists of the 777-8X and 777-9X, and the latter will enter service at the end of the decade. Furthermore, the -9X will be the -300ER’s immediate successor, and it will seat 427 passengers in a three-class layout, while traveling 8,200 nmi (9,430 mi or 15,200 km). Moreover, GE once again has exclusive rights to design the engines. Physically, the -9X will be over 8 ft (2.4 m) longer than the -300ER and will have an even larger, all new composite wing that will require folding wingtips to park at airports.