MIAMI — On November 10, 2005, the first Boeing 777-200LR flew 11,664 nautical miles in 22 hours and 40 minutes from Hong Kong to London using an easterly path. Boeing nicknamed this 777 variant the “Worldliner” because of its ability to connect virtually any two airports in the world with its maximum range of 9,395 nautical miles. Join us as we look back at this historic flight, as well as the characteristics and current use of this ultra-long range member of the 777 family.
Boeing launched the current generation of 777s (the -200LR and -300ER) in February 2000, ten years after the 1990 launch of the original -200, which entered service with United Airlines on May 15, 1995. The first -200LR rolled out of the Boeing’s Everett plant on February 15, 2005, and was delivered to Pakistan International Airlines a year later on February 26, 2006. During the testing and certification phase, Boeing embarked on a promotional tour that included the memorable Hong Kong to London flight.
The 777-200LR is identical in length to the original -200 and -200ER models. The major differences include 12.8-foot raked wingtip extensions, the use of larger and more efficient General Electric GE90-110B1 or GE90-115BL engines, a 111,000-pound MTOW increase, and a 1,670-nautical mile range improvement over the -200ER. In order to achieve the maximum 9,395 nautical mile range with a full load of 301 passengers in a three-class configuration, customers would have to install three optional fuel tanks at the expense of less volume in the cargo hold. Also, the freighter version of the 777 uses the same airframe, engines, and fuel capacity of the -200LR.
For the record-breaking eastbound flight from Hong Kong to London, only 35 people, including the crew and invited guests, flew aboard. Conditions required the right tailwinds and no inflight mechanical failures. Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman commanded the historic journey. She and a team of relief pilots took turns at the controls during the almost 23-hour flight. Guests, which included Boeing executives and members of the media, ate, slept, played games, and took part in stretching exercises. The airplane crossed two oceans and experienced two sunrises. After arriving to a water cannon salute at Heathrow Airport, Captain Darcy-Henneman described the airplane as “perfect.” The normal westerly Hong Kong to London route is 5,209 nautical miles.
Currently, 59 777-200LRs have been ordered, and 58 of them have been delivered. Air Austral, Air Canada, Air India, Ceiba, Delta Airlines, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad Airways, Iraqi Airways (operating for the Iraqi government) Pakistan International Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Turkmenistan Airlines fly the -200LR. None of the customers have opted for the maximum range configuration because of a lack of passenger demand for the ultra-long range use, along with high fuel prices.
The last airline to operate ultra-long range flights was Singapore Airlines, when it used an all-business class Airbus A340-500 from Singapore to Newark (the world’s longest flight – 8,285 nautical miles) and Los Angeles for nine straight years. However, high fuel prices and the poor economics of this four-engine aircraft resulted in the closure of these routes, the longest being 18 hours and 45 minutes, in November 2013. This Airbus model flew three years before the -200LR, but its maximum range is 9,000 nautical miles, compared to the -200LR’s 9,395-nautical mile reach.
During Boeing’s initial sales pitch of the 777-200LR, customers like British Airways and Qantas considered the aircraft to connect London and Sydney non-stop (9,188 nautical miles), but this would require a fuel stop on the westbound segment because of winds. The biggest challenge continues to be the economics of an ultra-long range operation, especially when it comes to an airline’s bottom line. The -200LR is no doubt a niche aircraft. Its larger -300ER sibling has outsold it by a factor of eight, considering it is more economical by flying 386 passengers in a three-class configuration for a similar cost as the -200LR. Moreover, the -300ER became an ideal 747-400 replacement for many customers.
Despite the fact that no operators have opted for maximum range operations with the 777-200LR, customers have taken advantage of its flexibility. For example, Delta currently flies it from Atlanta to Johannesburg, which has a high-altitude airport, and this is currently the longest route non-stop flown by a twin-jet, at 7,333 nautical miles. On other routes, the -200LR allows Delta to fly more cargo for the same cost, compared their -200ER fleet. Furthermore, the “Big Three” Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) use the -200LR on thinner long-haul routes that do not require as many passengers as the -300ER and can rely on it during the hottest days of the summer when other aircraft face weight restrictions because of the longer take-off roll.
Boeing still sees a future for the ultra-long haul market. The 777-200LR’s successor will be the larger 777-8X, which will carry 50 more passengers with a maximum range of 9,300 nautical miles. Emirates ordered 35, while Etihad went with eight during the 2013 Dubai Air Show. The -8X and the larger -9X will be the newest generation of the highly successful 777 family. The -9X will be produced first and has a targeted delivery for the year 2020.