Boeing has reportedly offered Qantas a stopgap solution for its Project Sunrise flights. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said yesterday that an alternative to the ultra-long-range 777-8 had been offered as a temporary fix until that aircraft is ready. For Boeing, an order from Qantas for the 777-8 is crucial to the survival of the program.
An alternative on the table
As more hold-ups plague the Boeing 777X, the US planemaker has come up with a plan in an attempt to secure the all-important Project Sunrise order. Qantas told Bloomberg that Boeing has offered them a ‘stopgap’ deal, in an attempt to meet the carrier’s deadline whilst still leaving the 777X on the table.
Alan Joyce was in London yesterday ahead of the Project Sunrise test flight between the UK’s capital and Sydney. The plane used in this case was an unmodified Boeing 787-9, loaded lightly with passengers in order to make the epic 19 hour plus trip. While there he gave an interview, in which he said,
“While the 777-8X is likely to be delayed, Boeing have put a compelling proposition on the table. Part of the Boeing proposal is an alternative that gives us a transition to the later delivery of the 777.”
Although the specifics of the deal were not revealed by Joyce, it largely seems as if Boeing is pitching to supply a different aircraft for the launch of Project Sunrise, with an inbuilt ability to switch to the 777-8 as soon as it’s ready.
What could the stopgap be?
There are two main options on the table that Boeing could have offered. Qantas already uses the 787-9 for its long trip between London and Perth, so Boeing could present a modified version of this as a potential fill-in for the 777-8. Installing additional fuel carrying capacity and configuring it to be extremely premium heavy could allow the 787-9 to go the distance.
The other option is a modified version of the forthcoming 777-9. Although this aircraft has seen some serious delays in production and flight testing, Joyce is not looking to launch Project Sunrise until 2021 (or possibly now 2023). This would (hopefully) give the planemaker long enough to achieve certification and get a long-range version over to Qantas.
The 777-8 would be Qantas’ preferred version for its ultra long haul flights. The shorter fuselage and reduced seating capacity would trade-off to a greater range. However, with this aircraft still some years away, a premium heavy, less densely configured 777-9 has the potential to provide a stopgap solution.
Qantas could save the 777-8
An order for the 777-8 from Qantas is crucial to Boeing. To date, the smaller aircraft has secured just 45 orders from only two customers; Emirates and Qatar. Qatar’s CEO Akbar Al Baker recently said that the airline is considering swapping its 10 777-8 orders for the larger 777-9, which would leave only Emirates on the books.
Emirates too have cast doubt on the 777-8 program, with Tim Clark previously alluding to some of their 35 units being swapped out for 787s instead.
Boeing has always maintained it is committed to the 777-8 program, despite pushing back the timeline for launch. Clearly, the US planemaker has a lot on its plate right now, what with delays to the 777-9, the MAX still grounded and the 737 NGs with their pickle fork cracks. Understandably, the ultra-long-range 777-8 has had to take a bit of a backseat.
For Qantas, the choice of its Project Sunrise aircraft remains to be made. Whatever stopgap Boeing proposed, there is still the option of the proven (but likely more expensive) Airbus A350-900. For now, we’ll have to wait and see which way the decision falls.