Why Wasn’t The Boeing 777-300 Popular?

The Boeing 777 has been a huge success for Boeing. Since its launch, it has overtaken the Boeing 747 to become the most sold widebody in history. And it continues still with the new 777X promising a lot. But amongst the variants, the 777-300 stands out with low sales of just 60 aircraft. Rather than being a failure, though, it was simply too lacking in range to be taken up by many airlines.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300
The 777-300 has been very limited in use, mainly operated by Asian airlines. Photo: Cathay Pacific

The launch of the 777: the 777-200

The 777 was developed as a long-range twinjet to capitalize on the improvements in twin-engine operations possible with new ETOPS regulations. The 747 had already seen huge success as a long-range widebody, but with high capacity and four engines. And the 767 had success as a smaller capacity twinjet. Boeing saw big potential with something between the two.

The 777-200 entered service in June 1995 with United Airlines. It proved a popular choice with several US airlines for domestic flights and was also popular in Asia.

The strongest demand, though, was for a longer range version. With a range of 9,700 kilometers, the 777-200 was limited in international, and in particular transoceanic, operations. The 777-200ER addressed this, with a range of 13,080 kilometers. It entered service (with British Airways) in February 1997. Order numbers show how the longer-range was desired. The 777-200ER has seen 422 deliveries, compared to just 88 for the 777-200.

United 777-200
United has been a significant operator of the Boeing 777-200. Photo: Phillip Capper via Wikimedia

Making it larger with the 777-300

The same situation, with strong demand for a higher range, has been seen with the larger 777-300. This larger airframe increased passenger capacity by around 20% to around 368 (in three class configuration).

It was launched at the Paris Air Show in 1995 and entered service in 1998 with Cathay Pacific. With a range of 11,165 kilometers, it offered a good step up from the 777-200 in both capacity and range.

The 777-300ER did not enter service until 2004, but it has sold well since then. It extended the range to 13,649 kilometers. Just as was seen with the 777-200ER, this is the combination that worked for more airlines. For flexible long-haul use, many airlines wanted a higher range. At this end of capacity, many airlines were looking to replace 747 aircraft, and the 777-300 just did not offer enough range to allow them to do that, whereas the 777-300ER did.

The popularity difference has been huge. The 777-300 has seen just 60 aircraft built and delivered, whereas the 777-300ER has seen 822 deliveries.

British Airways Boeing 777-300ER New York JFK
British Airways is a large operator of the 777-300ER, but the 777-300 did not work for its international routes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

What was wrong with the 777-300?

Put simply, nothing was wrong with the 777-300. It improved on the 777-200 airframe, adding more capacity, and went on to be the basis for the highest-selling widebody model from Boeing.

It worked well on shorter routes (just as the 777-200 had), particularly in Asia, where many airlines had concentrations of high capacity, medium-haul routes. Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Japan Airlines, and ANA have all used 777-300. All of these airlines have high capacity domestic or intra-Asia routes that the 777-300 has thrived on. ANA even operated the 777-300 with 514 seats on key routes. Emirates also operated the type on similar profile routes.

ANA has operated both the Boeing 777-300 and 777-300ER. Photo: Vincenzo Pace / JFKJets.com

But for other airlines, it just did not make sense to operate a larger widebody on shorter routes. Airlines in Europe and the US, for example, had other aircraft that would serve these shorter flights, and it was not until the increased range of the 777-300ER came along that they started to introduce it for long-haul routes.

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Will the 777X see a similar problem?

Both the 777-200 and 777-300 have seen the same problem in sales. The ‘standard’ variants have been much less popular than the extended range variants. This is something that the next 777 family member has addressed. The 777X will be available in two variants, the 777-8 and the 777-9. They differ in size, but neither is lacking in range.

777X models
Neither variant of the new 777X will have a low range. Photo: Getty Images

The larger 777-9 will be the first to launch, and this promises typical two-class capacity increased to 426 alongside a range of up to 13,500 kilometers.  And the smaller 777-8 will push this range up to 16,170 kilometers. We already expect great things from the 777X, but considered alongside the success of the 777-200ER and 777-300ER, it looks even better!

Would you like to share any thoughts on the 777-300 (or 777-200)? Would you consider them failures or just more niche aircraft compared to their ER versions? Feel free to share in the comments.