Boeing conquered the world, revolutionized air travel and surpassed the benefits of supersonic flight with the 747. The 777X could accomplish the same thing for the next generation of flyers.
The case in favor of the 777X is similar to the one in favor of the 747, but tailored for today’s and tomorrow’s more environmentally-conscious consumer. More people could travel, more economically, on journeys that would be impossible to make by other means of transport in a sustainable fashion.
While airlines are increasingly turning to narrow-body aircraft for long-haul flights, there is still a strong argument in favor of large, twin-aisle planes that can connect major city pairs more efficiently. The Boeing 777X could be just the right fit.
Airbus made this argument to support the A380: large city pairs need jumbo aircraft to serve them. As cities grow and passenger numbers increase, airlines will need to add capacity, but they may not be able to add enough with single-aisle planes alone. Airbus was unsuccessful in persuading enough customers, largely because of the A380’s unfavorable economics and the impracticalities of its operations.
The A380 cannot compete with the efficiency of a 777X and can only take off and land at a limited number of airports around the world. The 777X’s folding wings allow it to operate anywhere that a 777 or A350 can fly today.
With 309 currently on order the Boeing 777X has already bested the A380 program, which saw only 251 orders in the program’s history. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the over 1,500 747s Boeing has built—a program that was only originally expected to receive 400 orders.
The challenge for Boeing will be to persuade airlines to think beyond a narrow scope and increase the portion of their long-haul service served by twin-aisle planes.
There are strong arguments for Boeing to use, not least of which is the pilot shortage that airlines will have to contend with.
More planes flying requires more pilots trained to fly them and an over-reliance of narrow-bodies exacerbates the problem. The 777X can be flown by current generation 777-trained pilots, Boeing says. It’s a claim that will no doubt undergo more serious scrutiny by regulators following the 737 MAX tragedies—as will the whole aircraft—but that may be in Boeing’s favor, helping to restore confidence.
The decision may also be driven by future airport and airspace congestion.
With passenger numbers expected to double over the next 20 years, it will be a real challenge for infrastructure to keep up. Fewer planes required to fly all those people would be an advantage.
While Qantas’ decision to pick the Airbus A350 for its Project Sunrise ultra-long haul plans—a route that Boeing argued the 777X could serve—was a disappointment, this project is not representative of the “route of the future.”
The strongest argument in favor of long-haul wide-body planes is not that people can or will endure flights lasting more than 18 hours. Most won’t.
The long-haul route of the future is green. As more passengers focus on their carbon footprint when traveling, per capita fuel efficiency will become an important decision making factor and brand differentiator.
Just this week, the travel companion app TripIt announced a new feature that will help passengers keep track of their individual carbon footprint for each flight, and over time.
TripIt calculates the carbon footprint using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and takes into account distance and flight class among other factors. As more consumers become aware of their flight carbon footprint impact, pressure will mount on airlines to optimize their operations.
An argument could be made that, by fitting more passengers on a single flight while maintaining greater fuel efficiency, the 777X is the best aircraft suited for this greener future.
The 777X aircraft is suited both for high-capacity passenger transport and high cargo payload, on routes where the added cargo capacity would be beneficial.
This makes the 11% economic advantage that the 777-9 has over the A350-1000 far more significant. If Boeing can persuade more airlines to think in terms of their flight carbon footprint per capita, then Boeing could see the 777X order numbers rise.
The 747, which took its first flight in 1969, changed the world for my generation. The 777X might do the same for the children born as the aircraft takes its first flight today; a generation who will want also want to see more of the world and will want to live in a world well-worth seeing.
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