The late 2023 certification target for the 777X has not changed since Boeing updated securities analysts during a January earnings call, the manufacturer said in a written statement to AIN Monday, some six weeks after an FAA decision to reject the company’s request for type inspection authorization (TIA). First published in the Seattle Times, reports of the TIA rejection revealed that a May 13 letter from the agency explaining the reasoning for its decision raised what the paper called a litany of concerns, including an uncommanded pitch event last December 8.
The letter notes that although Boeing promises a software correction, it hasn’t addressed the problem to the agency’s satisfaction.
“After the uncommanded pitch event, the FAA is yet to see how Boeing fully implements all the corrective actions identified by the root cause investigation,” the letter reads. “Software load dates are continuously sliding and the FAA needs better visibility into the causes of the delays.”
In its statement, Boeing insisted that it has practiced transparency in its dealings with the FAA. “Boeing remains fully focused on safety as our highest priority throughout 777X development,” it said. “As we subject the airplane to a comprehensive test program to demonstrate its safety and reliability, we are working through a rigorous development process to ensure we meet all applicable requirements. We continue to communicate transparently with the FAA and other global regulators about 777-9 certification.”
Following Boeing’s receipt of the letter on May 13, during the June 3 Bernstein Strategic Decision Conference, Boeing president and CEO Dave Calhoun referenced the 777X program’s progress in response to questions from security analysts.
“That airplane, we are still confident will be certified in the fourth quarter of 2023,” said Calhoun. “We've incorporated all the timeline learning that we could possibly incorporate from the Max recertification and the architectural preferences that both the FAA and the EASA have embedded in their regulations. So those are important things with respect to how we do this, and we've incorporated that and we've given ourselves time to learn as we go through this.”
The letter also asked that Boeing “close gaps” in its technical data before it submits further TIA requests. In June, however, Calhoun said he felt comfortable with the program’s progress.
“We know a lot about the airplane; it performs really well,” he noted. “We don't have like a load of technical glitches and we don't have a battery issue. We don't have that kind of stuff because we've actually been flying, doing the things that we've been doing. So I like the status, I like the progress we're making against the [certification]. Again, we will be subject to FAA's timeline and we will not question it.”
Originally slated for a 2020 certification, the 777X had already suffered setbacks as early as mid-2019, during which time the investigation into the twin crashes of the 737 Max in October 2018 and March 2019 remained in its early stages. At the time, the airplane’s GE9X came under scrutiny while the engine company redesigned a stator in the front part of its compressor that had shown more wear than anticipated during testing, causing roughly a six-month delay. By the time the 777X took its first flight in January 2020, it became more evident that regulators would more intensely scrutinize the program, creating expectations of a still longer wait.
During the earnings call this past January, Calhoun explained that the latest 777X delays centered on three main factors, leading with an updated assessment of global certification requirements influenced by the 737 Max grounding. As part of its assessment, Boeing decided to make “certain modifications” to the aircraft design involving both software and hardware changes to the actuator control electronics, he said, reflecting the company’s “current judgment of global regulators compliance expectations.”
Calhoun also named downward long-term expectations for passenger traffic brought about by the Covid pandemic on long-haul routes, in particular, shifting "to the right" the anticipated replacement wave of widebodies in the capacity range of the 777X. Finally, the 777X’s customers have asked for delivery deferrals directly due to their projections for their own fleet needs over the coming few years.