A day after the highly anticipated launch of the 777X, Boeing found itself attempting to debunk assertions that the big three Persian Gulf carriers that now account for the majority of the order backlog unduly influenced the technical characteristics of the airplane. While appearing at a technical briefing on the program at the Dubai Airshow last week, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and general manager of airplane development Scott Fancher insisted that the airplane reflects the needs of airlines around the world, including those of launch customer Lufthansa Group.
“It’s really kind of amusing to us to hear about that in the marketplace, or out in the press,” said Fancher. “We’ve been talking to airlines all around the world for 18 months, understanding what their needs are and crafting this airplane to have the flexibility that our customers say they need… I know there’s a lot of talk about [appealing] to the long-range, Middle East Gulf carriers and higher-temperature departure days. But that same capability gives other airlines the flexibility they need for high-hot operations, that they need for sea-level, hot-humid operations or sea-level wet operations or short-hop runway operations.”
In support of Fancher, GE vice president and general manager for commercial engines operations Bill Fitzgerald noted that the Gulf carriers account for only a third of his company’s global fleet, and that Emirates’ requirement for 105,000 pounds of thrust doesn’t necessarily translate into a fuel-burn penalty for carriers that don’t need that much power. “We’re working closely with Scott [Fancher] and his team to make sure that what we have for an engine capability and an airplane capability meets everybody’s expectations,” said Fitzgerald.
Lufthansa vice president of fleet management Nico Buchholz explained that as the first carrier to commit to the 777X, his airline “solidified” in its contract what it wanted from the airplane. “Now there are additional requirements that make the airplane better or more flexible and it still satisfies our needs,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say from our standpoint that the aircraft is sized to a Gulf requirement; it’s still a global player.”
Meanwhile, Boeing will explore “all options” for production site locations for the 777X following the rejection by its machinists of a contract extension proposal in return for a company commitment to build the airplane and its carbon-fiber wing in the Puget sound region of Washington state, BCA chief executive Ray Conner told reporters on the eve of the airshow. Conner also insisted that Boeing offered a fair proposal and that the company “has no plans” to return to the bargaining table.
Conner denied that any desire to accelerate the timing of the 777X’s entry into service influenced what appeared as urgency to reach a deal. “Going into this vote was not being driven by a need to accelerate this airplane,” he said. “The timing of this airplane hasn’t changed…We have to make some decisions on where we’re going to be long term. It’s a pretty long cycle because, particularly with the wing, it’s not something we’ve done before in the Puget Sound region or anywhere else, except for over in Japan [at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries].”
In fact, Conner wouldn’t discount suggestions that 777X wing production could go to Japan, alongside that of the 787’s wing, calling it “a good thought.” The manufacturer is “going to look very broadly,” he said, adding that the list of possibilities still includes the Puget Sound region.