Boeing Plays Down 777X Freighter Launch; Focuses On -9 Certification
A decision on launching a freighter version of the Boeing 777X will be made “when the market wants it” as the manufacturer focuses on ensuring the 777-9 passenger aircraft meets all deliverables when it enters service.
Media at the Dubai Airshow had speculated that Boeing could make a 777X freighter launch announcement during the show given the continued surge in global demand for cargo capacity fueled by a huge growth in e-commerce.
But in a briefing Nov. 14, Boeing SVP commercial customer support and commercial derivative programs Mike Fleming made clear a freighter launch was not a 777X program priority. Saying he had no answer on when a freighter might be launched, he added: “Part of the answer is it will be when the market wants the airplane. We have three airplanes undergoing development right now and we have to balance our resources as well as the workloads of the [certificating] regulators. If we launch the freighter when we are still working the -9, the workloads would have to be spaced out, so it is too early to give an indication.”
The -9 is making its airshow debut at Dubai. One of the test aircraft is on display in the static park and participating in the flying display.
The flight program, with four test aircraft, has been going on for about 20 months now and has accumulated more than 600 flights and 1,700 flying hours. Fleming said the target for certification and first deliveries remains on track for late 2023, by which point it will have become a 44-month-long flight-test program—far more drawn out than the 10 months for the first iteration of the 777 and 20 months taken for the 787.
“It speaks to the amount of time that we've had on this airplane to fly it and to be able to work out any of the issues that we have had and get them incorporated,” Fleming said. “We were very deliberate back in the beginning of this year when we moved the schedule on the 777X to encompass the changes that we've seen in the regulatory environment and changes that we wanted to make onto the airplane as well.”
Part of the regulatory environment changes, he explained, is the higher level of documentation for certification that has been required since the 737 MAX grounding and recertification.
“We are not sitting on our hands,” Fleming said. “We are flying the airplane and we will continue to fly what we call ‘Boeing tests’ so that we can collect data. Then we will go into certification tests having made the program as mature as we possibly can. I love it—we get to fly the heck out of this airplane.”
Fleming said Boeing was “constantly making changes to the airplane” during the test program in response to feedback from regulators. These include some flight-control system and display changes.
But he pushed back on any notion that 777X customers were not being kept fully informed on the program status and system changes. Emirates president Tim Clark has spoken publicly about his dissatisfaction with program status communications.
“We talk with our customers every single day, every single week, every month all year round,” Fleming countered. “We share where we are and we share initial testing results with our customers. I think we try to be as transparent as we can possibly be with the customer, but there are some things that we don’t control and one of those is certification. That’s with the regulators and we have to satisfy the regulators.”