Why Has Boeing Built The 777X?

The new 777X is the latest aircraft from Boeing, and it has recently made its first flight. What sets this aircraft apart from others, though, and why has Boeing produced it?

Boeing 777X
The new Boeing 777X. Photo: Getty Images

Largest twin-engine aircraft to date

The Boeing 777 has been the best-selling widebody aircraft to date. Introduced in 1994, this was the first Boeing aircraft to feature full fly-by-wire operation and has proved popular with both airlines and passengers. 25 years later, it is due for an upgrade, coming in the form of the 777X.

The 777X took its first flight in January 2020.  It is set to enter service in 2023 and so far has 320 units on order from nine customers. Airline customers include Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, ANA, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines, plus there is one order from an unnamed customer. The 777X will come in two variants – the 777-9 and the smaller 777-8 (still to start production).

Emirates 777X
Emirates is the largest customer for the 777X so far, with 115 aircraft on order. Photo: Emirates

Time will tell if it becomes as popular as the 777. But here are some of the reasons it was built and why it might do so.

High passenger capacity makes it a replacement for the 747

The 777X will have a passenger capacity of up to 426, though this may be lower where airlines install first class cabins or other features. The smaller 777-8 will have a capacity of 384 passengers.

This extra capacity is important as the Boeing 777X is being marketed as a potential replacement for the Boeing 747. While many airlines have retired their Queens following the downturn of 2020, an uptick in demand in the coming years could see the 777X serve as a worthy replacement.

KLM 747-400M combi
Many passenger 747s left the global fleet in 2020. Photo: Getty Images

More efficient, with a reduced fuel burn

The 777X is a twin-engine aircraft, making it more efficient than the high-capacity four-engine 747 and the Airbus A380. With improvements in twin-engine operations and increased focus on efficiency, twinjets are the way forward for the majority of airlines.

It uses new General Electric GE9X engines, lighter than the GE90 engine on the 777 (mainly due to fewer fan blades and use of carbon fiber composite materials) but also with more thrust. The result is around 10% lower fuel burn. The GE9X is the largest commercial engine ever built (larger than a Boeing 737 fuselage) and has set a record for the highest thrust.

The GE9X engine offers higher thrust but with lower fuel burn. Photo: General Electric

Overall the aircraft is about the same weight as the 777-300ER, but with higher capacity. Boeing claims that the 777X will have a 10% reduction in fuel use and 10% lower operating costs than the Airbus A350.

Increased operating possibilities using new foldable wing design

The huge wingspan of the 777X is critical to achieving efficiency. The 777X has a larger wingspan (of 235 feet 5 inches) than any other commercial Boeing aircraft. Larger wings increase lift, which reduces fuel burn.

However, these large wings can be folded when on the ground, reducing the span to the same as the 777 (212 feet). This new feature is crucial as it will allow the aircraft a much wider choice of airports where it can operate.

Boeing, 777X, Firm Orders
Having a smaller wingspan on the ground enables the 777X to use the same airports as the 777, and more than the A380. Photo: Boeing

Boeing has made the important choice to keep the 777X in the second largest group, of the six groups defined by FAA’s Airplane Design Group (ADG). One of the challenges of the Airbus A380 has been its categorization in Group VI, and the limitations this has placed on the airports where it can operate. We discussed the challenges of this in an interview with HiFly’s CEO.

So with its good choice of operating airports, high capacity, new engines, and greener footprint, will the 777X match its predecessor’s popularity? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.