Bloomberg News

Emirates Prods Boeing to Keep ‘Head of Steam’ on 777 Jet Upgrade

October 03, 2011

Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Emirates, the world’s biggest international airline, is pushing Boeing Co. to press ahead with improvements to its 777, even as it finishes work on an all-new airplane and updated designs for two others.

The planemaker needs to come up with a better version of the 777 in the next six months and have it ready to enter service by 2018, Emirates President Tim Clark said yesterday in an interview after two days of meetings with Boeing executives in Seattle.

He said he’s been asking for two years for a twin-aisle plane that will fly more passengers and freight greater distances and be at least 10 percent cheaper to operate. Those savings would be similar to what Boeing is promising for two smaller planes: the 787, entering service this month more than three years late and billions of dollars over budget, and the 737 MAX, scheduled to be ready in 2017.

“There’s no doubt that the 787 program has caused them a certain amount of angst,” Clark said. “They have other programs that need to be pushed out -- the 747-8, and they’ve got the 737 MAX now. So I was concerned that the head of steam we’d been building might be lost as they deal with the problems with the other ones.”

Boeing has introduced about one new jet a decade since the 1960s, along with derivatives of the models that improve performance. New planes cost more than $10 billion to develop, even without the problems the 787 has faced with its new composite materials and manufacturing processes.

Double Duty

Boeing has said it won’t run two major programs concurrently again, after swallowing billions of dollars in charges for costs related to the 787 Dreamliner and the 747-8, the newest jumbo jet that’s two years behind schedule.

“We’re confident that when the market demands it, we’ll develop and deliver a plane that provides what our customers require,” said Karen Crabtree, a Boeing spokeswoman. “We feel comfortable with where we are in that process.”

With about a hundred 777s in the Emirates fleet now and about 40 still to come, Clark is the model’s biggest airline customer. Retirements are scheduled to start in 2017, so he’s asking for a replacement that can carry 60 tons of payload from Los Angeles to Dubai. That’s about 7,230 nautical miles (8,320 statute miles or 13,390 kilometers), and would have to factor in hot weather that hurts performance.

The 365-seat 777-300ER, which entered service in 2004, can carry roughly that same payload up to about 6,800 nautical miles, according to Boeing. The 777-200LR, the world’s longest- range commercial airliner, can fly farther. It’s smaller, though, so it carries fewer passengers and less cargo.

More Work Needed

Clark said he may be asking for too much, and he’s not yet sure whether Boeing will be able to meet his deadlines, because there’s more work to be done on propulsion and some other items.

“But I’m sure it’ll be a very attractive option,” he said. “They are making good progress.”

Boeing brought Lars Andersen, the former 777 program manager, out of retirement last year to lead a team to work on a replacement plane. Clark said Andersen knows what customers like Emirates need and will build on technological advances made with the 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first airliner made out of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic composites.

“The composites, the wing, the flight deck, the question of the whole materials structure, aerodynamics of the airplane, a lot of that will be learned from the 787 and will cross over,” Clark said. The same will be true for Airbus SAS and its planned rival to the Dreamliner, the A350, he said.

“The eye came off the ball, because they had to get the 787 out, and that really did drain them psychologically and materially,” Clark said of Boeing management. As for the 777, “Believe me, they’re working it, they’ve got a full team of people working on this airplane, and they’ll be going as fast as they can.”

--Editors: Stephen West, Nick Turner

To contact the reporter on this story: Susanna Ray in Seattle at sray7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net


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