Boeing's 777 development strategy shows how requirements for a growing part of the long-haul aircraft market have changed. Originally designed primarily as a DC-10 replacement for domestic U.S. carriers, the big Boeing twin swiftly evolved into a long-range workhorse for the world's airlines before the influence of mainly Middle Eastern and Asian operators led to the dominance of the current 777-200LR/300ER long-range generation. This process is on the cusp of evolving to the next phase with the 777-8X/9X.
“They [Persian Gulf-based airlines] clearly had tremendous market success and we continue to work very closely with them as their business model continues to develop,” says John Wojick, Boeing's global sales senior vice president. “We see quite a lot of growth in the region in general, and they've shown themselves to be formidable competitors in the industry. They created a model that's all about long-haul capacity and connecting long-distance routes around the world through hubs—it certainly has our interest.”
But while some argue that pandering to the excessive range requirements of these and similar Asian-based carriers has led to limited success in the case of niche market products like the 777-200LR and A340-500, Wojick says the needs of the Middle East carriers simply form a bellwether for the rest of the world. “It's not a stand-alone phenomenon. The 787, for example, is a testament to our processes. When we looked around the world and saw what people want to do, we saw they wanted to get from Point A to Point B. So we developed the 787 for city pairs, and the Middle East carriers have capitalized on this desire. They've been able to connect city pairs that have never been connected before.”
“The 787 was designed around that philosophy, and now we have over 979 orders to date across a range of 220 seats all the way to 350 seats [the 787-10]. So we're looking at how we extend that with the 777, which today services the market with the -300ER and -200LR, and evolve it with the 8X/9X. Those are going to allow airlines to connect city pairs with an aircraft [777-9X] that burns over 20 percent less fuel [per seat], and has cash operating costs 15 percent lower relative to the -300ER, which has already largely obsoleted other aircraft,” Wojick explains.
The Middle East is the battleground where the fortunes of these new products could be largely won or lost. The competition with the smaller 350-seat A350-1000 forms the focus, with Boeing pushing further sales of the existing 777-300ER while refining the design performance of both the 777-8X and -9X to counter the challenge of the Airbus twin. Wojick refutes the Airbus claims that the A350-1000 is a “777 killer,” despite the fact that seven well-established 777-300ER operators (including British Airways and Japan Airlines) have ordered the A350-1000. “In terms of the 777-300ER, we've sold more of them in the time period that they've been offering A350-1000s, so the data would prove that's not the case. As for the future, when we look to 2020 and beyond, we know we can offer an aircraft that's better in terms of fuel burn and emissions.”
While Boeing strives to improve the range-payload performance of the 777X for the Persian Gulf carriers by reportedly increasing both maximum takeoff weight and engine power, the company is eager to show its overarching twin-aisle development strategy reflects the needs of the wider market. The 787-10, a double-stretch of the 787-8, will “capitalize on fuel efficiency,” states Wojick. “Instead of increasing thrust and range, we believe the airlines would rather have efficiency and a reduction in range. This is about 1,000 nautical miles but it still allows them to service more than 90 percent of the routes served by twins today. We give people a choice. We have the opportunity for them to buy an efficient 300-passenger 787-10, or the 300-passenger 777-8X that has adequate range and which can open up new missions. So by having two products within close proximity in terms of capacity, we can offer a choice of over and under 7,000 nautical miles.”
Based on the article “Dubai 2013. Top Designers” published in Aviation Week