Boeing hatches even bigger bird
By Helen Jung
EVERETT, Wash. It can connect Pakistanis with the British, Parisians with Los Angelenos, and the Japanese with New Yorkers.
Boeing rolled out its newest jet yesterday the 777-300ER before a crowd of thousands of employees, suppliers and airline customers. The company is hoping that the ER, the "extended-range" update of the 777-300, will help it navigate commercial aviation's toughest economic climate. It's designed to compete against Airbus' A-340 models.
The twin-aisle jet, under development for three years, can travel up to 8,330 miles nearly 1,500 miles farther than 777-300s.
An extra 13 feet of wingspan and raked wingtips help reduce the distance that the jet needs for takeoff, reducing its fuel consumption. While increasing fuel efficiency, Boeing offers the option of additional fuel tanks.
Its engines, built by General Electric Aircraft Engines, are the largest in the world bigger than the fuselage of a 737 jet.
"It's absolutely the coolest airplane in the world," said an ebullient Alan Mulally, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Boeing's 777 series remains one of its most popular jetliner offerings, even as the company has had to defer deliveries as airlines struggle with billions of dollars in losses and a sluggish economy.
Boeing already has 49 orders for the 777-300ER from seven customers including Air France, All Nippon Airways and Pakistan International Airlines. The new jets cost between $201.5 million and $231.5 million.
The extended-range model is the fourth of five planned versions of the 777, which first came out in 1995. The company is continuing work on the Boeing 777-200LR the "longer-range" version of its 777-200 but delayed development when the industry downturn deepened after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The extended-range jet also offers a newly designed interior that uses overhead space for crew quarters, creating room for more passenger seats. The jet will carry 365 passengers in a standard seating configuration in three classes.
The jet also gave Boeing an opportunity to come up with a new paint design or livery. With 55-foot-wide maps of the world tattooed onto the front sides of the plane, and blue and red swooping lines wrapping the underbelly, the design creates a sense of motion, said Gary Wicks, marketing manager for 777s.
The 777-300ER still faces a year-long battery of tests, with its first flight slated for late January or mid-February. The first delivery is scheduled for April 2004, to leasing company International Lease Finance Corp and its customer, Air France.
The concept of a longer-range jet is a solid idea, though the airline industry needs to recover more before it will take off, said Richard Aboulafia, with aviation consulting firm Teal Group of Fairfax, Va.
"It's going to come in dribs and drabs as the carriers recover or outperform everybody else."
Chicago-based Boeing has not said whether its next completely new jet will be a Sonic Cruiser, which can travel near the speed of sound, or a more traditional airplane with greater fuel efficiency.