With all that’s going on in the world right now, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Thankfully, Boeing is still focused on the future, and its hotly anticipated 777X program is moving steadily forward. Here’s a round-up of where the program is now and what we can expect in the coming weeks and months.
Taking to the skies at last
Despite numerous delays to the program during 2019, the Boeing 777X finally took its first test flight on January 25th. Even this was delayed, as the original flight test date proved to be too windy. Nevertheless, it successfully completed its first test flight, kicking off months of testing as it heads towards certification.
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In total, four test aircraft will fly, featuring registration numbers WH001 to WH004. The testing program will cover everything from avionics to icing to aerodynamics. Several thousand test hours are required before the 777X can be certified, a challenge which has been further compounded by the impact of COVID.
When many of Boeing’s workforce downed tools in early April, due to outbreaks of COVID, the test program ground to a halt. However, thanks to implementing additional health protocols, Boeing was able to resume test flights by April 24th.
The second test aircraft took to the skies on May 1st, signaling Boeing’s push forwards with the program despite the challenges the aviation world faces.
Now we’ve all got to see a bit more of the giant aircraft, additional details have emerged regarding what can be expected onboard. We already knew about the giant engines, the folding wingtips, and other innovations, but some of the recent revelations have added more color to the mission of this enormous plane.
Most surprising is that the 777X will not be certified as a brand new type. Assumptions were that this plane, being quite different in many ways to its predecessor 777 line, would have a separate type certificate. However, Boeing confirmed at the end of April that this was not the case. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen, but will certainly speed up the certification process.
We also know that the plane will feature crew rest areas above the cabin, which will be certified to be occupied during take-off and landing. This gives us some insight into the mission profile of the 777X, and the flexibility it will allow airlines in terms of crew rostering.
There have also been some details shared of the WiFi technology onboard, which promises better bandwidth sharing between passengers and crew, allowing for more streaming and more modern avionics systems to be implemented.
Doubts over the future
Although most 777X news is positive, there are some shadows of doubt being cast over the future of the giant jet. With travel demand predicted to be sluggish for some years, the industry is wondering whether such a large, high capacity plane is even needed any more.
Indeed, some airlines have already mooted swapping out 777X orders for smaller, lower capacity aircraft. Cathay is eyeing a switch to the 787-10, Lufthansa might swap its delivery slots for freighters instead, and even before the crisis, Emirates reduced its order in favor of the more flexible Dreamliner.
Indeed, despite assurances that the first 777X will be delivered in 2021, Emirates COO recently said the airline was not expecting to receive any before 2022. Boeing has indeed reduced the production rate on the 777 and 777X lines as a result of COVID, but despite this, other customers remain confident in receiving the first of the type next year.
Are you excited to see the entry into service of the Boeing 777X? Let us know your thoughts on the plane in the comments.