MIAMI — Boeing is planning to bring forward the entry into service (EIS) of its re-engined 777X program to December 2019, according to a report over the weekend from Flightglobal. The EIS for the larger 777-9X, which will seat 400-425 as the first twin-engine very large aircraft (VLA), was previously planned for early 2020, with the smaller 777-8X to follow two years later. Boeing has not yet confirmed the reports, but it appears that the timeline for the aircraft has been moved up by a couple of months.
The new 777X date is driven by a production gap
There is no doubt that the looming production gap Boeing faces to bridge its current generation 777 to the re-engined jet plays a role in Boeing’s desire to move up the EIS as much as possible. Right now, 3.75 years away from EIS, the 777 has a backlog of just 213 airplanes, just over two and a half years worth of production (inclusive of Boeing’s recently announced production cut to 7 aircraft per month from 8.33 currently). With Boeing struggling to sell 777-300ERs and 777 Freighters (despite a recent win with United Airlines) after winning just 38 combined firm orders in 2015, moving up the EIS date is a key priority for Boeing. We estimate that Boeing still needs to sell 180-200 777s till the 777X fully ramps up, and that will be no easy task. Moving forward EIS by another 3-4 months beyond the current 2-3 would be a massive boon and lop 30-40 orders off of that required total.
Boeing’s technical execution shows positive signs
Beyond the financial considerations, the fact that Boeing is even willing to move up EIS on an airplane after the technical execution debacle on the 787 is a positive sign in and of itself. Between Boeing’s surging confidence in the EIS date of the 737 MAX and this move, it would quietly appear that Boeing has regained its confidence in its own technical execution—a particularly strong signal given the retreat to caution engendered by the 787. The one caution for Boeing would be that regardless of its own performance, the new General Electric GE9X engine is a risk out of its hands. As Airbus just found out with the Pratt & Whitney geared turbo fan (GTF) engine, EIS delays are just as liable to be driven by the engine manufacturers on these re-engined aircraft.
Boeing casts an eye towards the Airbus A350-1100
While the primary driver behind Boeing’s decision was almost certainly the 777’s production gap, a commensurate benefit is also to put some more distance between the 777X and the stretched Airbus A350-1100 that we understand the European consortium is likely to launch at this year’s Farnborough Air Show. As there are conflicting reports about the specifics of the stretch (with proposed seat capacity falling somewhere between matching the 777-9X and superseding it by 40 seats,) suffice to say that the more distance Boeing can put between the 777X and the A350-1100, the better. The A350-1100 would have a very real shot at wresting the CASM crown away from the 777X, and that would cause substantial problems for Boeing that the latter would need to combat with availability.