An unspecified delay to the development of the Boeing 777-8 has thrown into question Qantas’s Project Sunrise plans, under which the Australian flag carrier had expected to launch Sydney to London service using either the Boeing product or a proposed ultra-long-range version of the Airbus A350. Corroborating a report by industry journal The Air Current, Boeing confirmed the decision to slow development of the smaller of the two 777X variants but added that it does not intend to drop out of the Qantas competition.
“We reviewed our development program schedule and the needs of our current 777X customers and decided to adjust the schedule,” a Boeing spokesman said in a written statement. “The adjustment reduces risk in our development program, ensuring a more seamless transition to the 777-8. We continue to engage with our current and potential customers on how we can meet their fleet needs. This includes our valued customer Qantas.”
While Boeing hadn’t yet disclosed a definitive certification schedule for the 350- to 375-seat 777-8, expectations that entry into service would happen in time for implementation of Project Sunrise by late 2022 or early 2023 now have proved wrong. In fact, the 400- to 425-seat 777-9, originally expected to fly for the first time this year, now faces the real prospect of failing to meet its late 2020 first delivery target.
Late last month Boeing confirmed it has moved the target for first flight of the 777X to early next year from the second half of 2019 following consultations with engine maker General Electric, whose new GE9X continues to suffer delays while the engine company redesigns a stator in the front part of the compressor that had shown more wear than anticipated during testing. Speaking during his company’s second-quarter earnings call on July 24, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said schedules still call for first delivery by the end of 2020, while hedging somewhat on the certainty of the timeline. “We know there is clear pressure on that [schedule],” he conceded.
Muilenburg at the time expressed satisfaction with the development headway Boeing has made with the rest of the 777X. “On the airplane side of the effort we’ve been very pleased with the progress,” he said, noting that over the last quarter the company had completed final 777X “gauntlet tests,” including airplane-level systems integration trials in the factory and low- and high-speed taxi tests.