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The fourth Boeing 777X joins the flight test program

Boeing’s fourth 777X hit the skies for the first time on Sunday. 777-9 made a successful first flight over the state of Washington. The aircraft is now joining its three 777X stable partners outside of Seattle, while cabin systems and extended operations are fully operational before the aircraft starts flying on paying passengers in 2022.

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Boeing’s fourth 777X successfully completed its first test flight on Sunday. Photo: Getty images

Boeing has high hopes for this aircraft

The first 777X came out in the air only in January. After delays, Chief Test Pilot Van Cheney picked up the first 777-9 in four hours on January 25. The second aircraft first flew in late April, and the third 777-9 completed its first test flight in August.

Boeing has high hopes for the aircraft. Back in January, during the first 777X flight, Boeing’s chief marketing officer, Wendy Sowers, called the 777X a branded aircraft.

“This plane for me is the flagship of the big airlines in the world,” she said.

It was a bold claim for a plane that had a difficult pregnancy. As Boeing gradually removes its iconic 747, the manufacturer hopes the 777X will take its place. While the 777X lacks the attractive lines of the 747, it is lighter, more economical and can carry almost as many passengers.

777X has engine design problems and delays

The 777X program launched in late 2013. It took seven years to launch four test aircraft in the air. 777-9 are large aircraft with large engines that expand the boundaries of engine design and engineering. It was these ambitious engines that caused many of Boeing’s 777X delays.

Under each wing there is a General Electric GE9X engine. Each engine is as wide as the fuselage of a Boeing 737. Each engine breaks through 105,000 pounds of thrust. The engines also claim to be 10% more economical than the previous version of the GE90.

Problems with the design of GE9X engines have affected Boeing. In 2013, Boeing wanted to start delivering the 777X in 2020. This is already blown out by 2022.

Boeing has 309 orders (and another 300 options) for the 777X. When the aircraft launched in 2013, it already had 259 orders. Emirates remains the largest customer to date, with Boeing books carrying 115 of the aircraft.

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The Emirates tied 777-9 in development earlier this year. Photo: Jay Singh / Plain Flying

Is the 777X the right plane for the weather?

But the world has changed a lot since 2013. The eight airlines that ordered the 777X are inherited airlines with significant long-distance operations. Some experts ask if the 777X comes too late for the time, like the A380.

There is a clear trend towards smaller aircraft with great capabilities. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a good example; agile, medium, economical aircraft that can fly long distances. Beyond the Atlantic, the Airbus A350 also falls into this category.

Some people say the 777X is too big for what airlines want in 2020. That’s why orders have stopped and no one but Boeing worries too much about the delays.

The events of 2020 will further target airlines to smaller aircraft as they seek to reduce costs and respond to changing passenger demand.

But Boeing has invested too much in the 777X to pull it off now. It may not be the perfect airline for the weather, but Boeing will deliver it, later than never.

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