Why The Range Of The Boeing 777-200LR Was Too Long

The Boeing 777-200LR is one of the longest-range aircraft in the world, capable of up to 8,555 nautical miles (15,843 km) at once. This even outranks aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747. However, despite being ahead of its time and destined to operate incredible routes, the aircraft was not particularly commercially successful. In a curious twist of fate, one of the reasons for this turned out to be the long range that should have been its greatest selling point.

Emirates Boeing 777-200LR
Emirates has been known to deploy the Boeing 777-200LR on its Dubai-USA routes. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

What was the Boeing 777-200LR?

The Boeing 777-200LR was a longer-range development of the original 777-200. Boeing envisioned the aircraft to be configured to carry 301 passengers in three cabins. This consisted of 16 passengers in first class, 58 in business class, and 227 in the economy cabin. Alternatively, the aircraft could fly up to 440 travelers in a single class, higher-density cabin configuration.

As we have established, the 777-200LR had a range of 8,555 nautical miles, or 15,843 km, thanks to factors such as its impressive fuel capacity. The aircraft also had the advantage of only two engines compared to its rival, the similarly-ranged Airbus A340-500. This meant that the 777-200LR burned far less fuel than its four-engine European competitor.

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Jake Hardiman PIA Boeing 777 London Heathrow
Pakistan International Airlines was the 77-200LR’s launch customer in 2006. It currently operates two examples. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

An excellent concept on paper

On paper, the aircraft was perfectly designed to fly on ultra-long-haul routes such as New York to Singapore. This remains the world’s longest scheduled commercial flight, which Singapore Airlines operates with premium-heavy Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft. Maybe it would even have been considered for Qantas’s ‘Project Sunrise‘ flights had it been more of a commercial success.

However, despite early sales to a few airlines, only 60 of the type were ever actually built. One order from Turkmenistan Airlines remains unfulfilled to this day. The Boeing 777-200LR was an amazing aircraft on paper. However, in reality, it failed to live up to expectations. One reason for this was none other than what should have been its greatest selling point – its long range.

British Airways 777-200ER
The Boeing 777-200ER was far more popular than the LR. British Airways currently operates 43 examples of the ER, equivalent to nearly 75% of the number of LR deliveries. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Why was the Boeing 777-200LR unsuccessful?

The aircraft tackled the problem of long-haul international routes by fitting the aircraft with larger fuel tanks. This contrasts significantly to the modern approach of efficient engines and improved aerodynamics. Larger fuel tanks made the aircraft heavy to fly, while rising fuel prices also rendered it expensive to operate.

Airlines who operated the type sometimes found that they had trouble starting ultra-long-haul routes due to the amount of fuel required. As such, they often relegated the aircraft to smaller, less dense, shorter routes. This was also not a perfect solution, as aircraft such as the Airbus A330, or, later, the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner,’ were cheaper to operate on such services. Airlines who had not ordered the type saw this and became less inclined to purchase it.

Boeing 777-200LR Paris Air Show 2005
The Boeing 777-200LR on display at the 2005 Paris Air Show. Photo: Grippenn via Wikimedia Commons

Then, when the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A350-1000 were created, Boeing found itself with a white elephant project. Both of these aircraft have excellent ranges comparable to the Boeing 777-200LR, but with a much lower fuel burn.

This meant that airlines wanting to operate long-haul routes were better off ordering an aircraft that can efficiently fill medium-haul routes as well. These aircraft offer efficiency by focusing on less fuel burn per seat over bigger fuel tanks.

Why do you think the Boeing 777-200LR was not so commercially successful? Have you ever flown on one of these aircraft? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.