Boeing Delays Ultra Long Range 777X

Filed Under: Misc.

This has the potential to be yet another big blow to Boeing.

The A350-1000ULR is coming…

Yesterday I wrote about how Airbus is expected to soon announce the A350-1000ULR, which would be the longest range plane in the world. While this plane would be useful for quite a few airlines, presumably the target customer here is Qantas, which is looking for a plane that can fly nonstop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.

This would essentially be a longer range and higher capacity version of the A350-900ULR, which Singapore Airlines uses to currently operate the world’s longest flight, between Singapore and Newark.

We’ve known that both Airbus and Boeing are competing to build a plane that can meet Qantas’ specifications. Well, it looks like Boeing isn’t doing as well competing here as they should be.

Boeing delays ultra long range 777X

Boeing has revealed that they’re delaying the introduction into service of an ultra long range version of the 777X. It goes without saying that Boeing is dealing with quite a few problems as it stands, including:

  • The grounding of the 737 MAX
  • The delay of the standard 777X into service, due to engine issues (the plane was already supposed to have its first flight, but that has now been pushed into 2020)

As a Boeing spokesperson describes their situation:

“We reviewed our development program schedule and the needs of our current 777X customers and decided to adjust the schedule.

The adjustment reduces risk in our development program, ensuring a more seamless transition to the 777-8. We continue to engage with our current and potential customers on how we can meet their fleet needs. This includes our valued customer Qantas.”

While Boeing claims they still want to compete in this segment, it sure sounds to me like Airbus may be winning Qantas’ business by default here. Qantas is hoping to launch these ultra long haul flights by 2023 at the latest, and with Boeing pushing back their schedule, it’s highly unlikely they can meet Qantas’ needs.

Bottom line

It sure is a tough time for Boeing. Boeing is struggling to get the 737 MAX back into service and limiting the delays associated with the 777X, and all of their efforts are going into that.

Meanwhile Airbus has announced the A321XLR and is expected to soon announce the A350-1000ULR, and in both cases Boeing doesn’t have a direct competitor. Airbus sure is having quite a bit of success post-A380.

If everything is as it seems, I would imagine within several months Qantas will announce that they’ve selected the A350-1000ULR for their ultra long haul plans.

I think the big question at this point is what other airlines would be interested in a plane like the A350-1000ULR. If there’s not that much interest beyond Qantas, I have a hard time imagining Boeing would move forward with the development of such a plane.

  1. Boeing has made some great planes in the past but man, they’re just awful lately. I can’t think of a single Boeing plane that doesn’t have a superior Airbus equivalent from a PaxEx perspective.

  2. Delayed here means DOD.
    Seems Boeing were unable to deliver to the specs needed by Qantas, the 778 is some 15 tons heavier than the A351, that’s a lot of weight to pay in kerozene for 20 years, so the A350ULR wins because it is clean sheet frame.
    The announcement by Airbus must have secured clients, versions are hardly made without, in this case QF or other, but QF no doubt as they are the emblematic customer for this version.
    Either way, if QF want to realize Project Sunrise, the A350ULR is all they do it on.

  3. Dreamliner delays before launch, grounding due to battery fires and quality issues even today at the SC plant; 737 maxes falling off the skies and now this. I am just not surprised with the poor quality and management at Boeing. Whenever possible to choose between airbus and boeing; i would go with airbus to fly. Time to breakup Boeing and bring some competition.

  4. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a big fan of Boeing. Fondly recall flying on the 707 (an excellent plane), 727 and 747 back in the day. And I always thought that they made the finest passenger aircraft on Earth – and there was no reason not to believe it. I mean, not only was the 707 awesome, but the 747 was/is a masterpiece of engineering. Their other models branched off from those royal roots.

    And then, something went very horribly wrong. Management changes, restructuring, and a company that seems to have lost its passion for making great aircraft, yet clearly prioritizes the almighty dollar and stockholder value above all else. If you think Ben is “bashing Boeing”, maybe you’re right. But they deserve the bashing and more. They are being outclassed by Airbus on every level at this point. They’ve made planning errors (not replacing the 757 was a huge one), poor design choices in the interest of expediency and “value” (the MAX cluster***), lousy production management (North Charleston?) and now these delays and hesitations with the 787-X. Meanwhile, Airbus is hoovering up all of the potential sales. If I ran an airline, I’d be buying from Airbus too.

    Yeah, Boeing deserves every bash they get. If they’re so damn concerned about the stock price, here’s an idea: CLEAN HOUSE! Fire all top management – with no golden parachutes, either. Give them a freakin’ lead anvil. Restructure that entire company. Go through the production facilities with a fine-toothed comb and fire people who assemble anything less than a perfect aircraft. That’s just a start. Boeing is a mess and it’s a national embarrassment.

  5. @Alpha

    I’ve heard many times that the A320 family has slightly more room than the 737 family. I don’t necessarily disagree there.

    What about the Dreamliner and A350? What makes it so much more superior than a Dreamliner?

    People also keep saying that Boeing isn’t innovating and has been using the same airframes for too long. What do you think Airbus would have done if it had been making jet aircraft for over fifty years and wasn’t receiving loans from EU governments?

  6. @ Garrett

    A350 is also larger than Dreamliner, giving more seat width for the same configuration.

    The idea that poor little Boeing is fighting government-subsidised Airbus is nonsense. Boeing gets massive tax breaks (remind me, why is their headquarters in Chicago?), and huge cross-subsidies from defence spending which pay for much of the R&D and overhead.

    Boeing tried whining to WTO about all that, and got their arses kicked there, too.

  7. @Garrett the A350 is a wider cabin. So when you’re crammed 9 across in economy, you have extra width in your seat on an A350 than a 787… same applies in other parts of the cabin of course as well.

  8. I am shocked that they haven’t yet announced the cancellation of the 737 Max and the commitment to the 797 for 2023 at the latest. They have gone far too long without replacing the 73/75/767 lines. That is a much bigger and still growing market than the now declining big widebodies.

    Even the Middle Eastern carriers are slowly shifting away from the hub and 400+ seat aircraft model. While the 777 is economically more limited to the largest carriers on major routes, the 797 could have a great potential. Not only in replacing 757 and 767s but also in making new routes and schedules economical.

  9. Prior to the merger in the 1990s, McDonald Douglas was run by accountants and Boeing by engineers. Ok, pause and think about that.

    After the merger the accountants took over and Boeing has had one issue after another with the two main lines coming from that era. The 787, and now the 737 MAX (was just a disaster waiting to happen).

    Imagine the fallout when they announce the MAX cannot be fixed!! After weekly updates, there has been silence for a bit now. Hmmmm.

  10. This may be over-simplifying things a bit, but it seems as if much of Boeing’s woes stem from a failure to innovate. Sure the Dreamliner was innovative. But instead of innovating, it instead asked GE or Rolls to innovate engines and threw them onto a 50 year-old frame (the MAX). Now that may not have been entirely Boeing’s fault – its customers, particularly WN and AA, did not want to have to retrain pilots. They wanted a new 737. But had Boeing created a narrow-body Dreamliner – the NMM (in effect, a composite body 757) they’d avoided the MAX issue and also be competing with the 321XLR.

  11. Boeing is a major U.S. company with a large portfolio, but they have serious problems with many of their biggest programs…
    737MAX: deliveries halted pending re-certification, production continues, inventory builds
    NMA: Boeing continues to dither re launch while Airbus racks up orders for A321XLR
    777X: development and certification delays (on both -8 and -9), giving opening to A350ULR
    767/KC-46 tanker: cost overruns, program delays, loose tools & debris on delivered tankers
    Cyclical downturn coming in aircraft orders?

    And Boeing still has upcoming lawsuits and damages to pay for those killed in the MAX crashes. In sum, these are an unenviable collection of problems to be facing at the same time.

  12. It makes sense that Boeing is putting the 777-8 on ice. Apart from the known issues with Max and delayed start of the 777-9, Boeing so far only has 45 orders of that plane; 35 from Emirates and 10 from Qatar.
    It’s been known for a while that Emirates is negotiating its order with Boeing. I wouldn’t be surprised if EK has greatly reduced their order of the 777-8.

    The A350-1000ULR could do long routes from say Doha to Auckland with higher capacity and less costs than the gas-guzzling 777-200LR that will sure be retired in due time. So yes, alot speaks for the A351ULR and Airbus probably has some orders under its sleeves.

  13. Boeing can easily cut their loses here and give Airbus the win with the A350-1000ULR, which by and large is a one trick pony for a select few airlines like Qantas. The 777 has been a successful aircraft for them, and focusing on the 777X will give them the ‘jumbo’ of the future now that the A380 is on the way out and there’s been little interest in 747-8s.

  14. Bear in mind that most European airlines used to fly to Oz but now only BA does so. If there’s a ULR aircraft capable of doing FRA, CDG or AMS – SYD/MEL non stop, then we could see European airlines bringing Oz back into their route network.

  15. Another example of how passion for aviation was replaced by the sin of money and ego. It affects so many major corporations. Airbus certainly has had its share of issues in the past. The A380 is dead (for now).

    But for those who may think Airbus will win, that may be true, though all airlines will lose if there is one manufacturer. Monopolies don’t serve their customers, or their customers’ customers. It also leads to complacency and lack of quality. With no competitors, why innovate or improve?

    Aviation geeks should be pressuring Boeing to get their house in order, and bring back the passion of innovative engineers to make awesome aircraft. Accountants only serve shareholders, which in turn don’t help anyone.

    Just some thoughts.

  16. @Garret
    Despite putting lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig. Boeing, unfortunately, has a few pigs in its airline trough right now.

  17. @Larry

    I guess we’ll have to see how moral and innovative Airbus will be in twenty or so years. If Boeing only develops wide-bodies or fails completely, then Airbus will have to compete with the likes of COMAC.

    Will they be creating clean-sheet designs every 10-20 years like everyone on OMAAT would?

  18. People are bashing Boeing saying they aren’t innovating but do you know how many routes have been made possible due to the 787? Heck, still even the 757 is making knew routes possible. Boeing has always pioneered aviation and Airbus has always followed behind copying them; examples include 707, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787. The 777 and 787 have both completely changed aviation and made it a lot cheap for us the passengers. True Boeing has had a rough year and Airbus has had a great year but I think it’s totally wrong to bash a company that has done so much for aviation.

  19. @Stogieguy7

    “And then, something went very horribly wrong. Management changes, restructuring, and a company that seems to have lost its passion for making great aircraft”

    You left out the biggest part. Then came Airbus, who are not like Lockheed or McDonnell Douglas or even Boeing themselves, that cares more about defense than commercial.

    The A300 really kicked the tri-jets right in the butt.

    But I do want to defend Boeing about having no 757 replacement. As good as it is, the market for the 757 is small, even smaller for high performance thin routes. It mostly the US3 carriers that heavily needed them as a 1 to 1 replacement for thin TATL routes. As a business decision, the 737-900ER could be a good temp on many routes while waiting for the Y1, which eventually became the 737 MAX. Keeping a production line open (back in 2005) for 10 years mainly for US3 who probably don’t need a replacement until at least 2020 would spell disaster.

    If you look at the routes, only a handful would be gone without the 757 the rest could be served with 737MAX. And out of those routes, I’m pretty sure it’s flown by US3.

    Closing 757 line was the right choice.
    Making 737MAX as a replacement was a cheap trick.

    What the world needs right now is a longer and thinner route, <150 pax with range of 6000+ miles (think of A319 size with 767 range). Of course it is still economically impossible.

  20. Maybe Boeing doesn’t want to spend a ton of development costs for an aircraft meant to appeal to exactly one carrier. They didn’t take the bait to compete with the A380, and that now seems smart. Perhaps they realize there aren’t enough destinations that an Ultra long haul aircraft would be useful for that can’t already be served by the existing 787 and 777 fleets.

  21. I don’t know why some people are so fascinated by defending Boeing… Clearly the company is having quite some problems and Airbus is taking the upper hand in this round, thus a little criticism against Boeing should be considered as constructive and helpful. But some commenters here are just like: “HOW DARE YOU SAY A BAD THING ABOUT BOEING!”
    Calm down man. There’s never a permanent winner in the game of aviation.

  22. @ Jake

    Times change. There’s no denying Boeing’s huge contribution to aircraft innovation. But it’s therefore inevitable that Airbus will then be a follower, as a new entrant in a mature market.

    As it happens I think you’re at least partly right at the market segment level, Airbus has generally followed Boeing (eg, A350 following 787); but when it does so it seems much sharper at giving customers what they want. It uses emerging technologies more cautiously (eg, no Lithium-Ion batteries on Airbus) but carefully (compare the use of composites in construction).

    When Airbus innovates (eg, A380) it has, so far, got it wrong. But it also seems to understand other people’s innovations better (its takeover of Bombardier’s range of small jets to give us the A220 family is a great example).

    It’s different in the military field where Boeing is clearly a vastly more profitable operator (check out the Airbus A400M as a case study in how to start brilliantly but get so much wrong).

    But I agree with others, it would be better for all of us if there’s more than one major supplier in civil aviation. I hope Boeing gets its act together.

  23. I’d expect an order from Qantas consisting of the A350-1000ULR for project sunrise ultra long haul flights. A350-900ULR could be on the cards if they want to expand to other European cities such as Paris Frankfurt, Rome and Madrid. A350-900 or A330-900neo as a replacement for their aging fleet of A330’s. A321XLR for an expansion into secondary Asian cities. A320neo family to replace their also aging 737’s. A220’s as a replacement for much of the old Qantas link fleet. While I doubt this will happen in one go I would not be surprised to see orders such as these in the near future as part of the Australian flag carrier’s expansion.

  24. @ Garrett wow, really? Boeing’s management should be fired, prosecuted and forced to pay restitution from their own assets. I am a life-long capitalist that believes the market should be allowed, in most cases, to regulate itself. However, the criminals in Boeings’ boardroom repeatedly committed fraud and knowingly allowed these planes to fly – which be legal definition makes them guilty of second degree murder. Just no one is willing to do anything as it would expose the hypocrisy that the FAA went along with it.

  25. If I had to guess, I would assume the causation runs the other way.

    Qantas have probably already picked Airbus, without it being announced yet, and Boeing have found and and decided to “delay”.

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