The long-delayed 777X has long felt like something far off and irrelevant. I knew I’d pay attention to it eventually, but it was never top of mind. But when Emirates announced it was adding to its order for the 777X recently, I found myself going down a rabbit hole. Let’s talk about the 777X.
With the 747 put out to pasture, the 777X will be Boeing’s largest commercial airplane. More than a decade ago, Boeing put forth the 777X as a competitor to the higher end of the A350 family. The launch order came from Lufthansa in 2013 and while first flight occurred in 2020, delivery keeps being pushed back. It’s now pegged for 2025, a mere six years later than originally planned.
All that being said, 2025 isn’t that far off, if that date holds. So it seems like the right time to talk about this airplane.
The 777X will have 3 versions, the shorter 777-8, the freighter version 777-8F, and the longer 777-9.
Think of the -8 as a 777-300ER on steroids. It holds about the same number of passengers in a 2-cabin configuration — just shy of 400 — but it’s actually 10 feet shorter. It will still be 10-abreast in economy, so it must just have more usable length or better-placed monuments that allow for more seating. The cabin is apparently something like 4 inches wider, so there’s a tiny bit more room there, but not much.
The steroids come in thanks to the new wing and engine technology. While the 777-300ER posts a 7,730nm range, the 777-8 will come in at 8,745nm. There aren’t that many ultra long-haul routes that need that much airplane, but it will give airlines the option instead of just relying on the 787 as they must today.
The -8 is also the closest match to the Airbus A350-1000, Airbus’s flagship now that the A380 is dead. The A350-1000 is 10 feet longer than the 777-8, but it has lower typical capacity — around 370 — since it will usually fly with 9-abreast. Range is similar to the 777-8 with the A350-1000 coming in at 8,700nm.
The 777-8 may fly long, but the 777-9 is long. That airplane will add 30 seats to the 777-8’s capacity to hit 426 in a typical 2-cabin configuration. To do this, the airplane adds 20 feet in length (10 longer than the 777-300ER/A350-1000) and sees range drop to 7,285nm which is very close to what the 777-300ER has.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the 777-9 that has captured the attention of most airlines. Of the 453 aircraft on order, only 43 are for the -8 (from Emirates and Etihad) while 55 are for the -8F and 355 are for the -9. This makes perfect sense. The 777-300ER is a similar, great airplane that is going to be a lot cheaper to purchase than a -8. The extra benefit of the 777-8 is that long range, which is not something that is needed all that often. It’s the 777-9 that should be the rock star, at least for those airlines that can support a big airplane like that.
Because of the size of the airplane, it’s no surprise that the 777-9 orderbook looks a lot like the A380 orderbook. You’ll find ANA, British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, Qatar, and Singapore on both lists. The only airlines that fly the A380 today that haven’t ordered the 777-9 are Asiana, Korean, and Qantas.
In addition to those airlines that also ordered the A380, Boeing has locked down Air India for 10 and Cathay Pacific for 21 777-9s. The prospects for the 777-9 are certainly better than for the A380 thanks to four main reasons.
- The 777-9 is a single deck aircraft that doesn’t require special boarding facilities to load from multiple decks.
- The 777-9 single deck means it seats about 150 fewer people in a typical configuration so has more utility in an airline’s network.
- The 777-9 can hold about 1,000 cu ft more cargo than the A380. It holds more LD3 containers as well.
- The 777-9 has a unique foldable wingtip so it will be able to taxi around with just under 213′ of wingspan, low enough to make it a Cat V aircraft. It extends to 235’5″ for takeoff. The A380, meanwhile, is at 261’8″ making it a Cat VI aircraft which is much harder to manuever around most airports.
With those foldable wingtips, the 777X will be able to operate anywhere the 777-300ER can fly today. This makes it a much easier proposition for airlines to bring into their fleets.
All this being said, the 777X is still a very big airplane. There were 880 777-300ERs ordered, so you can imagine many of those will be replaced eventually. And of course, there is plenty of opportunity to replace the A380s with the -9, just as Emirates is doing. Whether the 777-8 has much success remains to be seen, but it does fill a gap in the product line.
In the end, what we’ll have is the two widebody types offered by Boeing. The 787 spans from 242 seats in a typical configuration on the -8 up to 330 seats on the -10, easily covering the market that the 777-200 used to cover. Then the 777-8 kicks in at 395, topping out at 426 on the -9.
I imagine that some additional airlines remain interested, but they need to see this airplane in action — and probably see the price come down — before they commit. Even with some reticence, the 777X has already pulled in 200 more orders than the A380 ever did. This airplane is going to be a winner for those big markets that need a lot of seats.