Boeing to study 777-8X tweaks to meet Qantas’s Project Sunrise challenge

An artist's impression of the Boeing 777-8X. (Boeing)
An artist’s impression of the Boeing 777-8X. (Boeing)

Boeing says it is studying some potential “tweaks” to its 777-8X in order to meet Qantas’s ultra-long haul needs.

Qantas has laid down the challenge to Airbus and Boeing to have an aircraft capable of operating nonstop from Austrlia’s east coast to London and New York by 2022.

The challenge, first announced in August, is called Project Sunrise, which is a nod to the “Double Sunrise” flights Qantas operated between Perth and Sri Lanka using Catalinas in WW2.

It pits the Airbus A350-900ULR (ultra-long range) against the Boeing 777-8X.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and chief project engineer for the 777X program Michael Teal said the airframer was working with Qantas to understand its requirements.

“The good thing about getting in on it early with Qantas and their request is really to understand their fleet requirements and the market demands,” Teal said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

“If you look at the exact airplane we have on paper today, which is not at firm configuration, it falls short of all their desires but exceeds many of their desires. What we are doing today is looking at what knobs we can twist.

“We are highly motivated to participate with them on Project Sunrise and make sure that the aircraft offering we have will meet their needs.”

The 777-8X and larger 777-9X feature 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 is due to begin flight tests on General Electric’s flying testbed before the end of the year.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and general manager for the 777X program Eric Lindblad said design work on the -8X was underway.

Asked if Boeing would have to produce a special longer range variant of the 777-8X rather than just some “tweaks” to meet Qantas’s needs, Lindblad said: “Our preference obviously is to tweak the -8.”

“We really feel strongly about both the -8 and the -9 and for us it is really about taking the -8 and doing the things that Michael talked about and just making it a tweak to make that the offering that we need.”

Lindblad also expected the 777-8X to have a “greater customer base than what you see in the 777-200LR”.

“We’re certain of that,” Lindblad told reporters.

“We also expect that the -9 to be our top seller and the -8 will just fit inside of the fleet architecture that various of our customers want.”

While airline customers will have to wait until 2022 to get their hands on the 777-8X, the first A350-900ULR is less than a year away from commercial service.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is the launch customer for the A350-900ULR, with which it plans to resume nonstop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York in 2018.

Airbus has not published specific technical data on the A350-900ULR, stating only the long-range variant was capable of flying 19 hours and carry up to 165,000 litres of fuel. By comparison, the standard A350-900 has a range of 8,100nm and could take on 141,000 litres of fuel.

Currently, the world’s longest route by distance is Qatar Airways’ Doha-Auckland service at 7,848nm, operated by Boeing 777-200LR aircraft.

While most of the initial focus when Project Sunrise was publicly launched in August was on London Heathrow (9,188nm from Sydney) and New York JFK (8,647nm), Qantas has also earmarked Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (7,312nm) and Cape Town (5,946nm) in South Africa as new frontiers for nonstop services.

While it is true the 777-8X and A350-900ULR are capable of operating those routes, the range versus payload specifications were not quite where Qantas believed they needed to be for either airframes to ensure the routes were economically viable.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said recently the choice of aircraft to complete these ultra-long haul missions would be represent the “last frontier in challenging the distance that has always been a problem for the Australian market”.

“We’ve gotten a great reaction from both manufacturers,” Joyce said during a speech to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on November 27, according to an audio recording on the society’s website.

“Just before I came here I had a note from Tom Enders the CEO of Airbus saying that our team had gone to Toulouse talked to Airbus about their aircraft the A350 and he was very impressed with our approach.”

There are 340 orders for the 777X family of aircraft, with Emirates the largest customer with 150 aircraft.

The 777-9X is listed with a range of 7,600nm when carrying 400-425 passengers in a two-class configuration.

Comments

  1. Lechuga says

    Seems like when they made the 400ER jumbo specificity for Qantas. Boeing has done it for them before wouldn’t put it past them again.

  2. Stephen Boyce says

    It will be a massive contest. the boeing 777-8 is a better aircraft and the boeing 777-9 can replace the airbus a380. Qantas has a Heinz variety of fleet and need to sort out the mess ie boeing 797 to replace airbus a330 boeing 777-8 to replace boeing 747 and boeeing 787 does some of that as well. For Qantas link I would buy Bombardier CRJ to replace the fokker 100 and boeing 717 and ATR 42 to replace Bombardier q 300 etc

  3. Ash says

    I have no doubt that Airbus and Boeing will rise to the challenge.

    What I do have doubts over is whether or not the economy traveling public will be up to the challenge
    of sitting in a cramped seat for 20 hours.

    If Qantas opt for the 777, I hope they at least have the decency not to configure it in a sardine/10 abreast configuration.

  4. Chris says

    Air NZ will be interested in Qantas Project Sunrise outcome, as the B777-8 is being looked at as a replacement to the B772 and possibility the B773.

  5. David McGrath says

    As QANTAS have configured 787 9 with 9 abreast for ultra long haul it would be reasonable to assume that they would do 10 abreast on the 777 if the configured them with a standard economy cabin. Comfort doesn’t make dollars and their ultra long haul is about a”premium” on fares.

  6. Ben says

    @Ash and @David McGrath, I may be wrong but I think the 777X models will have a wider interior cabin width than current 777 models. I think I remember reading somewhere that the 777x could be configured with 10 abreast and 18 inch wide seats in economy.

    Having said that, wider cabin or not, I do agree 9 abreast would be a lot more pleasant on such a long flight.

    I think economics are winning out over comfort these days. On such marginal sectors though where payload will still probably need to be traded for range to some extent, you just never know.

    Unfortunately I think they’ll probably keep it similar to the 787. Focus on Business and premium economy to make a smaller than standard overall passenger capacity – but still try and squeeze in as many the economy seats as possible.

    Until they have firm plans though – one can live in hope.

  7. Craigy says

    All this talk of configuration of the aircraft at this stage is a waste of energy. Qantas have said they are looking for an aircraft that can carry an economical payload with around 300 seats. How that breaks down in four classes is yet to be publicly announced.

    Qantas is also working with UniSyd on fatigue, comfort etc for long haul flying. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this research.

    I disagree with the comments on the variety of aircraft in the fleet. The current fleet mix matches the markets Qantas operates in at the moment. How the fleet changes in the future will be based on market need.

  8. Rocket says

    @ Ben
    I remember when the 747-238B came along and had 9 abreast seating. Within a few years it was changed to 10 abreast and everyone was saying the same thing about it being the end of long haul travel but for years after, every 747 had 10 abreast economy seating and the sky didn’t fall in.

  9. Ewan says

    Qantas purchase both 777-8, 777-9 or Airbus a350 for passenger comfort… i would not fly with Qantas if they operated a similar configuration to the Qatar 787-8. Qantas should keep its A380 till a neo version is released and purchase that! It might no have the range but it has comfort! Wide body aircraft are the way to go…so i guess you could fly on the 777-9

  10. Ben says

    @Rocket

    I haven’t said that the sky will fall in. If you read my post, I’ve actually said that they should be able to accommodate wider seats in the 777X than they can in current 777 models and still maintain 10 abreast seating, due to the wider cabin. So in other words, no problem.

    Don’t forget – the current 777 cabin width is narrower than the 747.

    So if you’re taking about the 747-238B at 10 abreast, it still would be roomier than a current 777 at 10 abreast. As far as the sky not falling in, the 747-238B Kangaroo route sectors in the 70’s and 80’s were mainly SYD-SIN-BAH-LHR or similar. There were at least 2 stops to get off the plane and stretch your legs. Each flight sector was approx only 7 hours.

    Even when the 747-400 came in it was still 1 stop and the sectors were up to around 12 hours on the Kangaroo route and 14-15 non stop across the Pacific

    Compare that to what is being proposed – a 20+ hour non stop marathon. If economy does have 18 inch seat width and a decent pitch – the convenience of a non stop would make it bearable.

    If seat width is 17 inches with a 31 inch pitch then the sky may not fall in, but I can’t imagine it would be a very pleasant 20 hours.

    However if you think it will be comfortable – go ahead and book it when the time comes. Personally I’d rather fork out for Premium Economy or Business.

  11. Mark says

    The article confirming Qantas’ selection of the 777-8 may as well be published now. No doubt they are only using the soon to be produced A359ULR to get Boeing to improve their payload.

  12. Michael says

    That long in an aircraft doesn’t appeal to me. Just perfect the art of the ‘stopover’ Singapore is good for that….

  13. says

    Boeing just reported that the second Boeing 787-9 airframe VH-ZNB has now completed two test flights and is ready for delivery with official handover set for Tuesday 12th next week (US West Coast time). . The next airframe iNH-ZNC s due for delivery on 22nd January 2018 and is already built and is in Pre-Preparation for first flight. The final Boeing 787-9 of the initial four aircraft is due for delivery on 15th February 2018. This will enable the launch of the MEL-PER-LHR route in March 2018.

  14. Craigy says

    The second dreamliner named Waltzing Matilda was delivered to Melbourne on 9 December. The fourth aircraft ZND, will commence assembly soon and should be on the flightline in early January.

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