Boeing’s flagship new plane, the 777X, is well on its way to service entry. Well into its flight testing program, the 777-9 is slated to enter commercial service in early 2021. But which aircraft are its main competitors, and how do they stack up against it?
The Airbus A350-1000
The main competitor for the new Boeing plane is, of course, the largest aircraft currently on offer from Boeing’s European rival. The A350-1000 is the largest widebody currently produced by Airbus, now that the A380 production line is winding down.
The A350-1000 seats up to 387 in a one-class arrangement or around 366 in a two-class layout. It’s shorter, with a smaller wingspan and dimensionally, is smaller in every direction. While most airlines use the A350 in a nine-abreast configuration, a handful have outfitted it in a cramped 10-abreast layout.
The Airbus CCO, Christian Scherer, said in Paris last year that a 10-abreast A350 would be ‘uncatchable’ by the 777X in terms of per seat economy. He claimed that the lower structural weight of the A350-1000 (35t lighter) would outpace the 777-9 on ultra-long-haul routes.
However, to fit 10 abreast on the A350, we’re looking at 17-inch wide seats. That’s a little squeezy for a short-haul flight, let alone an epic jaunt halfway around the world. The 777-9, on the other hand, comfortably fits 10 across while maintaining a standard 18-inch width.
While the 777X is a complete upgrade of the 777 line, there is still some fierce competition from the existing and very popular 777-300. While Boeing has said it will cut the production of the 777 when the 777X is flying, there are no plans to cease production entirely. Indeed, there is still a small backlog of 777-300ER to be fulfilled, and plenty of interest in the freighter 777F.
As such, the 777-300 is still a competitor to the new 777-9. Of course, it’s smaller, less fuel-efficient, and lacks the range of the 777X. However, it’s also a whole lot cheaper, and with used models hitting the market, could be a more economical choice for airlines in these uncertain times.
Within the realms of competition, the 777X also has to face off against some existing widebody aircraft. Airplanes falling into the large widebody category include the Airbus A380, the A350-900 and Boeing’s own Dreamliner, the stretched 787-10.
While the A380 is rapidly falling out of favor with airlines, the smaller A350 and 787-10 could see a resurgence in popularity. With passenger traffic predicted to take some time to recover, having a smaller capacity and exemplary fuel efficiency could serve to be preferable to operating one of the biggest widebodies in the market.
The biggest challenge for the 777X
Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge that the 777X has to overcome is the effects of the current crisis facing the entire industry. Airlines will not be looking to spend money on new planes any time soon, which has already seen no new orders for the type for some time.
With low demand predicted to persist for as long as three years, will any airlines really need such a huge, lumbering widebody plane? Unless there’s a strong business case for operating such a big aircraft, the launch of the 777X next year could end up being something of a whimper rather than a bang.
Already, Boeing has cut the production rate of its flagship plane to just three per month in 2021. This is a drop of more than a third from current levels. Before the crisis, the 777/777X production line should have been ramping up production in 2021, but with so much uncertainty in the market right now, Boeing is erring on the side of caution.
Do you think the world needs the 777X? Are its competitors a more economical proposition? Let us know in the comments.