In a respite from the crisis surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX, the airplane maker has successfully tested the first flight test of the 777x – the world’s largest twin-engined jetliner.
The 777X, a larger version of the 777 mini-jumbo jet, touched down at the historic Boeing Field outside Seattle at 2 pm (2200 GMT) on Saturday after a debut which began almost four hours earlier at Boeing’s revamped wide-body assembly lines north of the city.
“It’s a proud day for us,” said Stan Deal, chief executive of Boeing’s commercial airplane unit. “It made all of our employees proud one more time of who we are and what we get to do, by flying a brand new airplane that is going to change the world one more time”.
The aircraft, whose development codename is 777x, will officially be called 777-9.
The plane’s hallmark signature includes its folding wingtips, which allows its carbon wings to fit into the same parking bays as earlier models.
With the 777-9, Boeing is eyeing hundreds of sales later this decade. However its new 406-seater passenger jet must first overcome regulatory hurdles before it is allowed to be sold to potential buyers.
The 777X will be the first major aircraft to be certified since the role of software flaws in two fatal 737 MAX crashes prompted accusations of cosy relations between Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration and heralded tougher scrutiny.
The FAA has pledged to rigorously check that the 777X for software issues, while its launch customer Emirates has demanded that the plane be put through “hell on Earth” during testing to ensure safety and that it meets performance expectations.
Boeing’s chief test pilot, who co-piloted Saturday’s sortie, said Boeing will work closely with regulators.
“We are going to follow the normal processes we always follow and work with the FAA and they are going to work hand-in-hand with us,” Craig Bomben. “We took the time to get the airplane ready for flight test so I think we are going to march through flight tests successfully and quickly and get it certified to the FAA standards.”
The 777X is expected to enter service in 2021 and will compete with the Airbus A350-1000 which seats about 360 passengers.
Although Boeing has stated it has sold 309 777X, worth $442 million each at list prices, to customers in the Middle East, many in the industry have questioned Boeing’s strategy on depending on Middle Eastern carriers, who incidentally are scaling back orders.
“Longer-term, they’ll need more than those guys for that airplane. They’ll need the big network carriers to find routes that it works on,” said Aengus Kelly, chief executive of leasing giant AerCap.