MIAMI – Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first Boeing 777 delivery. The airliner is widely considered as the most successful wide-body jet and is the largest twin-engine aircraft in the world.

One of the biggest and flawless airliners, the Boeing 777 became in a short time span the flagship of the commercial aircraft industry and a bastion of XX Century aircraft engineering.

In its 25 years of service, the 777 family has flown more than 3.3 billion people on more than 13 million flights. In addition, it is the second most popular commercial airliner, in terms of sales, after the Boeing 737.

A new type of wide-body airliner

The Boeing 777, commonly referred to as the Triple Seven, is part of a family of wide-body, long-haul airliners developed by Boeing in the 1990s.

The aircraft was designed to bridge the gap between Boeing’s 767 and 747 and to replace older DC-10 or L-1011. Most notably, the 777 is the first fully computer-aided designed aircraft.

The airliner also accomplished the first ETOPS flight across the Pacific.

The Boeing 777 maiden flight on June 12, 1994. Photo: Boeing.

Developed in consultation with eight major airlines, the program was agreed upon in January 1990 and launched on October 14, 1990. The prototype was rolled out on April 9, 1994, and delivered to its first customer United Airlines (UA) on May 15, 1994.

The Triple Seven first entered commercial service with UA on June 7, 1995. Longer range variants were launched on February 29, 2000, and were first delivered on April 29, 2004.

Boeing 777 design specs

The Boeing 777 is the world’s largest twin-engine airplane, and the second-largest Boeing airplane, after the 747 variants.

It is also Boeing’s first commercial airplane with raked wingtips, that is wingtips that taper all the way to the very tip, essentially replacing a traditional winglet.

Each 777 is powered by two of the world’s most powerful airplane engine, the GE90.

The 777’s cabin is ground-breaking, with its curved undulating ceilings, indirect lighting, higher bins, and a more spacious cabin. Its design was the foundation of the Boeing Sky Interior that is featured on the 787, 747–8 and newer 737 variants.

In addition, the 777 is the largest twinjet and has a typical 3-class capacity of 301 to 368 passengers, with a range of 5,240 to 8,555 nautical miles (9,704 to 15,844 km).

The Triple Seven is recognizable for its large-diameter turbofan engines, six wheels on each main landing gear, a fully circular fuselage cross-section, and a blade-shaped tail cone. 

It has fly-by-wire controls, a first for Boeing. It initially competed with the out-of-production Airbus A340 and McDonnell Douglas MD-11, and currently competes with the Airbus A330-300 and the newer Airbus A350 XWB.

Diagram of Boeing 777 variants: 777-200ER on left, 777-300ER on right.

The original 777 with a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 545,000–660,000 lb (247–299 t) was produced in two fuselage lengths: the initial -200 was followed by the extended-range 777-200ER in 1997; and the 33.25 ft (10.13 m) longer 777-300 in 1998.

Those 777 Classics were powered with 77,200–98,000 lbf (343–436 kN) General Electric GE90, Pratt & Whitney PW4000, or Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines.

Boeing 777-200ER and 777-300ER

The longer-range 777-300ER with a MTOW of 766,000–775,000 lb (347–352 t) entered service in 2004, the ultra-long-range 777-200LR in 2006, and the 777F freighter in 2009.

These long haul variants feature 110,000–115,300 lbf (489–513 kN) GE90 engines and extended raked wingtips. In November 2013, Boeing announced the 777X development with the -8 and -9 variants, scheduled before the current crisis to enter service by 2020.

Photo: Boeing.

The next phase: The Boeing 777X

According to Boeing, the new Boeing 777X will be the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet, delivering 10 percent lower fuel use and emissions and 10 percent lower operating costs than the competition.

The 777X is a redesigned 777–200/300 but borrows heavily from the highly successful Boeing 787 design.

It has new high aspect ratio composite wings similar in design to the 787. It has a greater wingspan than the 777–200/300, and its wings will include folding tips that will allow it to fit into existing airport designs.

It will also have new and highly fuel-efficient engines, such as the GE9x. The GE9x should have a 10 percent greater fuel efficiency than the GE90 engine.

The 777X should also have a bleedless ECS system, which will increase overall aircraft efficiency, and allow for higher cabin pressures and humidity levels.

The new design will include a new cockpit, complete with touchscreen displays, and have an updated fly-by-wire design for the flight control system.

In addition, the 777X will have a 4″ wider interior fuselage, achieved by using thinner insulation materials. Its 19′ 7″ interior diameter will allow for 10 abreast seating configurations.

Another feature is its electrical systems, which will be updated to mirror the 787. This will allow for increased operational efficiencies and better entertainment systems for passengers.

Finally, the cabin windows will be larger in design like those on the 787, and have electrochromic shading.

Following numerous setbacks, including an Entry into Service (EIS) delay from mid-2020 to late 2021, the Boeing 777X was scheduled to finally take to the skies on January 23, 2020, but the maiden flight was delayed at the time due to poor weather and low visibility in the Puget Sound region.

Finally, on January 25, after two days of weather-related setbacks, the largest twin-engine commercial aircraft finally took off on its maiden flight. The Boeing 777X departed on a three-hour, fifty-one-minute test flight after wowing the world with an impressive takeoff.

You can check out our March 4 podcast episode that features a long interview with Airways Senior Correspondent, Chris Sloan, who witnessed the first flight of the Boeing 777X.

In his conversation with host Rohan Anand, Sloan dives into the event’s behind-the-scenes and analyzes Boeing’s future strategy to put this aircraft in service.

Photo: Brandon Farris

1,600 plus deliveries and counting

The 777 has received more orders than any other wide-body airliner; as of August 2019, more than 60 customers had placed orders for 2,049 aircraft of all variants, with 1,609 delivered. The most common and successful variant is the 777-300ER with 810 delivered and 844 orders. 

As of July 2018, Emirates (EK) was the largest operator with 163 aircraft. By March 2018, the 777 had become the most-produced Boeing wide-body jet, surpassing the Boeing 747.

777 retirements in 2020

Delta Air Lines (DL) made the decision this week to permanently retire by the end of 2020 its Boeing 777 fleet, comprised of 18 aircraft, due to the unprecedented drop in travel demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic shutdown.

Prior to the withdrawal of the MD and current Boeing 777 types, the airline had already reduced about half of its active aircraft due to the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, around 600 mainline and regional aircraft were parked.

For DL, retiring a fleet “as iconic” as the 777 was not an easy decision, as Bastian noted in the memo that he understood that the move had a direct impact on many DL staff who fly, crew and service the type.

The CEO wrote, “The 777 played an important role with Delta since 1999, allowing us to open new long-haul markets and grow our international network as we transformed into a global airline. I’ve flown on that plane often and I love the customer experience it has delivered over the years.”

Photo: Boeing.

The 777X program after the COVID-19 crisis

According to Leham News and Analysis, “the 777X program may be a casualty of the virus,” as there are only 285 orders due to airlines restructuring efforts to stave off the effects of crisis.

Emirates Airline is the largest customer, for 115. President Tim Clark, who plans to retire in June, is understood to be sufficiently exasperated with delays that he may cancel at least some of the orders before he exits the company.

Cathay Pacific (CX) has renewed leases for 12 777-300ER for 10 years from an order of 21 aircraft. Lufthansa Airlines (LH), another Boeing 777 customer with pending orders for the type, will also come out smaller from the crisis.

Boeing was already considering lowering the 777 production rate from 5.5/mo to 3/mo before the pandemic became a global crisis, according to LNA sources.

Thus, considering the near future of the 777X program, a possible scenario for the Chicago-based manufacturer might entail Boeing dropping the rate even further, or worst yet, halting production of the next generation of the iconic airliner.