The airline industry has become accustomed to first orders for new aircraft coming from the Middle East. But it is not one of the three big Persian Gulf carriers that has placed the first order for the Boeing 777X.

Lufthansa last week signed for 34 firm commitments and options as well as purchase rights for another 30 777-9Xs. It expects the first aircraft to be delivered in 2020 but cautions that this may change as the program progresses.

Although the airline selected the 777-9X over Airbus's A350-1000 for now, last week it also ordered as many as 55 A350-900s and options that could be converted to the larger version if needed.

Boeing intends for the 777-9X to replace its 747-400. Lufthansa operates 22 747-400s and continues to take delivery of its 747-8s—nine have been phased in and 10 more are on firm order.

Boeing will not launch the 777X program with an order from a single customer, regardless of the carrier's size or health, but it remains on track for official launch toward year-end and is widely expected to announce it at the Dubai air show in November.

Aside from Lufthansa, other leading launch candidates for the 777X include All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Emirates and Japan Airlines, all of which have been included in the airline group review process for the bigger twin. Expectations of a launch at Dubai have been boosted by Emirates President Tim Clark, who said earlier this year that he anticipated the launch in “six to nine months.”

The 777X will use a larger composite wing, drawing on knowledge from 787-9 wing development. The 777X is designed to have 20% lower fuel burn than the 777-300ER, half of which will be gained from the wing's improved performance and reduced weight. For the rest, Boeing is banking on the General Electric GE9X, a new centerline turbofan selected in March as the 777X's exclusive powerplant.

Tests of a 90% scaled version of the new compressor began in late August on a rig at a GE Oil & Gas site in Massa, Italy. The results of the evaluation will be used to fine-tune the design, which incorporates five bladed-disk (blisk) stages, and run a second compressor in 2014. The twinjet series will include a 777-8X, 228 ft. long with 353 seats to succeed today's 777-300ER, and a 250-ft.-long 777-9X that will compete in the 400-seat long-range market between the current 777 and 747-8 sectors.

The most distinctive feature of the new twin family will be the aircraft's 223-ft.-span wing, which will be the largest ever made by Boeing, if finalized at this size. The manufacturer is considering a folding-wing system that would enable the outer 11 ft. of each wing to fold up for improved airport compatibility.