Boeing close to finalising design for Project Sunrise contender 777-8X

June 4, 2018

Boeing says it is close to finalising the design work on the 777-8X long range widebody that will be the contender for Qantas’s Project Sunrise challenge.

Qantas is seeking an aircraft capable of operating nonstop from Australia’s east coast to London and New York and has indicated previously it would look to issue a request for proposal some time in 2019.

The challenge pits Boeing’s still-in-development 777-8X against the A350-900ULR (ultra long range) from Airbus.

The 777-8X, and larger 777-9X, features new General Electric GE9X-105B1A engines capable of delivering 105,000lb of thrust, new composite wings with folding wingtips to maintain its Code E rating at airports, as well as in-cabin enhancements such as larger overhead stowage and a wider cross section.

While the 777-8X is still in development and yet to reach firm configuration, the Boeing website lists the aircraft as having a range of 8,700nm and a passenger capacity of 350-375 passengers. The aircraft is expected to enter service in 2022.

However, the final specifications will only be known after further development of the aircraft design and an analysis of its engine performance. The GE9X engine began flight testing on General Electric’s flying testbed in late 2017.

The first wing structures for the 777-9X were completed in May and would be used in static testing.

Further, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it had certified the folding wingtips that will be featured on the 777-X program. Wing construction has begun.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior managing director for marketing analysis and sales support Darren Hulst said the program was “very close” to finalising the design specifications for the 777-8X.

“I mean, we are kind of finalising the design weights and those things but it is pretty close to being firm,” Hulst told reporters on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Sydney on Sunday.

“We are really happy and encouraged by the pace of development to this point in terms of the schedule, in terms of the technology, in terms of the progress.”

While there was much interest in the Boeing 777-8X for Qantas’s Project Sunrise challenge, as well as Air New Zealand’s interest for Auckland-New York nonstop service, in this part of the world, Hulst was keen to point out the 777-8X also had to have the flexibility to fulfil a range of missions required from other airline customers.

“Airlines are very focused on an airplane that fits more than just a very small subset of markets, they want an airplane that has versatility and whether you’re Qantas or whether you’re an airline in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” Hulst said.

“You want an airplane that’s most efficient in its class and it’s the most flexible in terms of where it can be deployed in the network.”

“I would focus less on the ultimate range of the aircraft and focus more on the fact that this aircraft has the most range capability of any airplane, current or future, and it is also more efficient than other aircraft in its class,” he stressed.

“Airlines need the capability but they also need the versatility, you need to be able to deploy it on multiple routes or it won’t make sense, it won’t buy its way into a fleet.”

There have been 326 orders for the 777-X program, comprising 53 for the 777-8X and 273 for the 777-9X, according to the Boeing website.