Boeing 777X makes maiden flight [Video]

Seven years since the program was launched, Boeing’s newest, state-of-the-art airliner, featuring cutting-edge technology such as folding wingtips and the biggest turbine engine in the world, the Boeing 777X, finally embarked on its maiden flight, taking off for the first time on January 25, 2020.

The first of four dedicated 777X-9 flight test aircraft, the WH001, took off from Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, Washington, United States. After a three hour, 51-minute flight over Washington state, it successfully landed at Seattle’s Boeing Field.



Over the coming months, the test aircraft would be used in a series of tests both on the ground and in the air. But prior to the resumption of testing, which is expected “in the coming days” according to the manufacturer, the aircraft would first undergo checks.

Previously, the airliner was expected to have it’s first go for the skies in the middle of 2019, around the time of the Paris Air Show (June 17-23, 2019). However, problems in the development of the massive GE9X engine, purpose-designed for the new jet, pushed the schedule by several months.

The engines were finally installed on the aircraft in December 2019. Boeing’s new wide-body airliner left the paint shop and was moved for primary flight control system testing on January 7, 2020.



“Our Boeing team has taken the most successful twin-aisle jet of all time and made it even more efficient, more capable and more comfortable for all,” said Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Today’s safe first flight of the 777X is a tribute to the years of hard work and dedication from our teammates, our suppliers and our community partners in Washington state and across the globe.”

What is all the fuss about?

The Boeing 777X, which includes the 777-8 and 777-9 variants, is a successor to the manufacturer’s previous Triple Seven aircraft models. Once it debuts, the newest Triple Seven will be the largest plane Boeing ever built, powered by the biggest turbine engine in the world. The 777-9 variant is also going to be the first twin-engine jet to be able to carry more than 400 passengers.

With a truly impressive 235 ft, 5 inches (71.8 m) extended wingspan (both 777-9 and 777-8 versions), the 777X is the first commercial aircraft to feature folding wing technology. The aircraft’s tips can be folded up to decrease the wingspan to 212 ft, 8 inches (64.8 m) when the aircraft is on the ground, thus allowing it to fit onto taxiways and into regular gates. Extended, the larger wingspan increases lift capacity and allows to maximize fuel efficiency, according to Boeing.

As no similar technology exists on a commercial aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to create airworthiness conditions from scratch. However, while folding wing technology is a novelty for commercial passenger aircraft, it already exists on military planes operating from aircraft carriers, such as the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

GE Aviation, an operating unit of General Electric (GE), is building the GE9X exclusively for the latest version of Boeing’s long-haul wide-body 777 airliner. The engine is developed on the foundations of the GE90, which powers the earlier versions of Boeing 777.

Launched in 2013, the GE9X engine will be the most fuel-efficient jet engine the company has ever produced on a per-pounds-of-thrust basis, according to GE. When it enters service with the 777X, power plant, which is roughly the size of a 737’s fuselage, will be the largest commercial jet engine available.

The 777-9, which is the one that has just entered flight testing /entered the flight testing on January 25, is the larger of the two versions, seating up to 426 passengers in a typical two-class configuration. Its range is 7,285 nautical miles (13,500 km). Meanwhile, the smaller 777-8, could seat up to 384 passengers but has a longer range of 8,730 nautical miles (16,170 km).

Boeing expects to deliver the first 777X in 2021.



Image: Dan Nevill, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Boeing’s “MAX brand is damaged and should be dropped”: customer

Steven Udvar-Hazy, Executive Chairman of the Board at Air Lease Corporation (ALC), an aircraft leasing company with 15 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in its disposal and 135 more on order, bluntly told what the manufacturer should do with the MAX brand during a conference in Dublin on January 20, 2020.

“We’ve asked Boeing to get rid of that word MAX. I think that word MAX should go down in the history books as a bad name for an aircraft,” said Hazy. “The MAX brand is damaged and there is really no reason for it.”

With no end in sight to the ungrounding of the troubled jet, the situation is seemingly getting worse for Boeing, as Hazy shared a sentiment that the President of the United States Donald Trump expressed back in April 2019.


Further issues

Boeing‘s hole in the 737 MAX crisis is getting bigger: reports on January 17, 2020, revealed that the manufacturer found a new software issue with flight-control computers onboard the narrow-body. The problem relates to monitoring functions of the jet, as one of the system monitors did not power-up correctly and did not communicate with the second flight-control computer, reported ABC News.

Previously, in early-January 2020, regulators found further issues with the aircraft‘s wiring systems that control the horizontal stabilizer of the jet. Potentially, the wires could short-circuit, causing the pilots to lose control of the aircraft.

Airlines have issued grim predictions on the return-to-service date of the grounded aircraft: American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines indicate that they expect the 737 MAX to fly commercially only in June 2020. If the provisional schedules prove to be right, the 737 MAX would be sat on the ground for more than a year since aviation authorities around the world banned it from carrying passengers after the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crash in the early morning hours on March 10, 2019.

For Boeing, meanwhile, 2019 is looking like a year that needs to be forgotten: with record-low orders and deliveries numbers and a damaged brand of its poster-boy aircraft, the manufacturer is looking to move on, including a change at the helm of the company.



Image: Marco Menezes

Airbus to produce seven A320 per month in Mobile, Alabama by 2021

Airbus announced its plans to further increase the productivity rate in its manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama (United States). The manufacturer will build seven Airbus A320 family aircraft per month in the facility starting early-2021, as it aims to boost the monthly production of its most popular aircraft to 63.

Consequently, the facility will welcome a $40 million investment from the European company and create 275 additional jobs, notes the press release issued by the aircraft manufacturer. Combined with the planned production rate increase of the former-CSeries aircraft, the A220, Airbus plans to dish out 130 jets per year for customers.

Increasing demand

While its Seattle-based rival Boeing is struggling to contain the 737 MAX crisis, Airbus became the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, as the European company completed 863 aircraft throughout 2019, reported Reuters at the beginning of 2020.

Airbus shipped 800 aircraft to customers and logged 831 new gross orders in 2018. In November 2019 it already logged 940 gross orders for its planes, excluding cancelations. The company’s most attractive product became the A321XLR, launched during the Paris Air Show in June 2019.

Following the announcement, airlines signed up for 440 A321neo family aircraft, by far the most popular jet in the manufacturer’s lineup in 2019. Since December 1, 2019, Airbus racked up several additional orders for the XLR that are not yet present in the company’s Orders and Deliveries data: a firm order of 10 aircraft from the Chile-based low-cost carrier SKY and 50 from the world’s third-biggest airline, United Airlines.

Nevertheless, Airbus had its fair share of struggles throughout 2019 as well, including A320neo family delivery delays and the production cancelation of its iconic double-decker the A380.

Spicy politics

At the same time, the press release announcing the production increase at Alabama puts a very heavy emphasis on the company‘s presence in the United States:

“Airbus has extensive presence throughout the U.S.,” employing more than 4,000 people in facilities across the country and “has spent nearly $50 billion in the U.S. with more than 450 U.S. suppliers, supporting more than 275,000 American jobs.”

Just a month ago, on December 2, 2019, Airbus publicly stated that $7.5 billion tariffs, imposed by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and given the all-clear by the World Trade Organization (WTO), should be reduced by around $2 billion, citing the cancellation of the Airbus A380 production.



Image: EQRoy

Boeing: 737 MAX pilots should go through simulator training

Boeing announced that it is recommending additional simulator training for all 737 MAX pilots before the aircraft returns to service. While the manufacturer is taking the initiative, the final decision rests in the hands of the regulators, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The interim Chief Executive Officer of the manufacturer, Greg Smith, said in a statement that safety was Boeing’s “top priority”. The confidence of airlines, the flying public and stakeholders was something also “critically important” to the company.

Following the second fatal Boeing 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia and the subsequent groundings, Boeing’s training procedures came under fire. Publications revealed that pilots were approved to fly the newest iteration of Boeing’s most successful narrow-body after a one-hour lecture on an iPad without any simulator training.

Peter DeFazio, the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure which is investigating the case, has supported the manufacturer’s decision. At the same time, DeFazio noted that it was “remarkable that it took two deadly crashes, numerous investigations and untold public pressure before Boeing arrived at this decision.”

“[…] Boeing’s business model for the 737 MAX was premised on Boeing’s unreasonable, cost-saving assurance to airlines that pilots qualified to fly a different 737 variant, the 737 Next Generation, should not undergo simulator training to fly the 737 MAX,” continued DeFazio.

A contractual clause between Boeing and Southwest Airlines, the biggest customer of the 737 Next Generation and the MAX versions, was also under heavy scrutiny when the-now ousted company CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on October 30, 2019.

Committee members questioned the contractual agreement that Southwest would receive $1 million per plane if the pilots were required to sit in a simulator before being approved to fly the 737 MAX. The contract covered an order for 280 jets of the type. The two parties signed the order on December 13, 2011, a few months after Boeing announced the MAX family.

Potential return to service delay?

If the FAA approves Boeing’s simulator training recommendation before it clears the grounded jet to fly again, it could potentially further delay the return of service date. According to a report by the Associated Press, there are only 34 737 MAX simulators worldwide and Boeing owns eight of them. Yet there are thousands of 737 pilots working for airlines that have already taken up their first MAX’s or are awaiting delivery for the aircraft.

However, it would not be the only hiccup in Boeing’s efforts to return the 737 MAX to the skies. On January 5, 2020, a report revealed that the wiring responsible for the control of the aircraft’s stabilizer could potentially short circuit and replicate the same conditions under which both Lion Air JT610 and Ethiopian Airlines ET302 crashed – by plunging the nose down with no way for the pilots to recover.

Boeing is determining how likely this scenario is onboard a flight.



Image: Boeing

Aircraft to watch in 2020

From Boeing’s tainted 2019 debuts to Russian and Chinese market newcomers, here are some brand new passenger aircraft to take shape and the spotlight in 2020.

Boeing 777X, NMA, MAX

Boeing is starting 2020 with a new CEO, halted production of the 737 MAX, and plenty of mess in need to be fixed. The year 2019 has, no doubt, been very difficult, as the two crashes of 737 MAX and the mayhem that followed (read more about it in Boeing Part I, II, III, IV, V) had not only cast a shadow on the company and its best-selling 737 series but across all its programs. Too bad for Boeing, which had some big news up its sleeve regarding new aircraft.

As the much awaited launches and announcements were overshadowed, here are three big news that have been postponed to 2020:

Boeing 737 MAX. Much has already been said about the (infamous) 737 MAX aircraft family. What has been, perhaps, overlooked, is that once the family is finally certified ‒ presumably in 2020 ‒ there could be more MAXs taking off than just the ones currently grounded.

Boeing 737 MAX family is made up of two variants, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9, which are already in airlines’ fleets and two still in the making ‒ the MAX 10 and 7. The shortest sibling of MAXs, the 737 MAX 7, was previously due to enter service in 2019. The date could now be sometime in 2020.

The production of the MAX 7 was launched in 2014 and the first aircraft was rolled out of Boeing’s Renton facility in the U.S. in February 2018, shortly thereafter completing its maiden flight in March 2018. Initially, Boeing 737 MAX 7 was supposed to be delivered for the launch customer Southwest Airlines in January 2019. However, the U.S. low cost giant is believed to have postponed the deliveries until 2023-2024, giving up the queue for the Canadian low cost carrier WestJet, which has also converted its first four orders for MAX 8, postponing delivery of its first MAX 7 to 2021.

Meanwhile, the fourth and the last member of the family, the Boeing 737 MAX 10, has officially debuted in the company’s Renton, Washington, factory on November 22, 2019. Seating up to 230 passengers, the MAX 10 is the largest plane in the MAX aircraft family. The maiden flight of the MAX 10 is scheduled in 2020.

Boeing 777X. A successor of aging Boeing 777-200LR and 777-300ER models, once in service the 777X is promising to be a truly impressive aircraft. With its huge folding wings (the first of the kind on commercial passenger aircraft) and engines as wide as the body of a McDonnell Douglas MD-90, it is going to be the first twin-engine jet to be able to carry more than 400 passengers.

The 777-9 can seat 400 to 425 passengers in a standard configuration and offer a range of 7,600 nautical miles (14,075 km). Regarded as a competitor to Airbus A350XWB or even the A380, the aircraft is to come in two versions: the first model introduced is going to be the 777-9, followed by 777-8.

On March 13, 2019, Boeing was supposed to publicly roll out the first 777-9X at their Everett facility in Seattle. After Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crash three days prior to the event, the company indefinitely postponed the public ceremony, instead quietly revealing it only for the company’s employees.

Yet the aircraft program had plenty of problems on its own. In September 2019, a cargo door on a Boeing 777X static test plane “blew out” during a ground stress test. The fuselage of the test aircraft suffered a high-pressure rupture just as it approached its ultimate load required to certify the jet, the manufacturer later confirmed.

While Boeing claimed the incident would have no significant impact on the overall test program schedule, it was already experiencing delays due to problems in the development of the massive GE9X engine purpose-designed for the new jet. It appears that GE Aviation has managed to fix the issue with its GE9X, involving the engine’s stator vanes. New photos that appeared on December 17, 2019, showed the GE9X engines already installed on the 777X.

This might just mean that, according to the initial plan, the first flight of 777X would take place in early 2020 and the first delivery in 2021.

Boeing NMA. While never formally committed to producing a new middle of the market aircraft known as the NMA or, sometimes, 797, it is known that Boeing has been working on the concept for some time now. In fact, it was even expected to be “closing in” on the decision in early 2019.

Viewed as a potential replacement for the aging Boeing 757 or 767 fleets, the Boeing NMA is expected to be the company’s attempt to focus on the overlooked “middle of the market”. The aircraft would be then designed for the 8 to 10-hour travel, on routes such as New York to Los Angeles in the U.S., or medium-range flights connecting the U.S., say, Chicago, to cities in Europe.

The new aircraft was already anticipated by some airlines, particularly large 757 and 767 operators like Delta Airlines, whose CEO’s once said that the carrier was “very interested in it” and could potentially opt for as many as 200 NMAs over the next decade. However, as no news came from Boeing and other 757 operators began opting for Airbus A321XLR (in particular, United ordered 50 A321XLRs to replace its 757s in December 2019), the year 2020 might just become the year when all hopes of seeing the NMA program take shape and come into existence becomes finalized ‒ one way or another.

Any news on Airbus A220-500?

Amidst all Boeing initiatives and projects in progress, a question imposes itself: what can we expect from Airbus? Not much for next year, it appears. Besides launching the A321XLR during Paris Airshow 2019 (to enter service sometime in 2023), the Toulouse-based manufacturer has kept shut on any other possible derivative, even more so on completely new designs of commercial passenger aircraft.

There are some speculations, though. The stretched version of A220, dubbed the A220-500, has already caught customers’ interest. Currently, the A220 family is composed of two types: the A220-100 model, which seats 100-120 passengers, and the larger A220-300, seating 120-150. The idea of a third A220, seating up to 175 passengers, dates back to the times when the airliner was still called Bombardier C-Series. In addition to CS100 and CS300, Bombardier also planned a larger version, the CS-500.

In July 2019, Air France KLM has expressed interest to acquire 60 Airbus A220-300 aircraft. The order appears not to have been finalized yet, as the manufacturer’s order book does not refer to it (as of November 2019). However, in a presentation to investors (dated November 5, 2019), Air France-KLM refers to the A220 family as a possible medium-haul aircraft within Air France’s future fleet. Besides the obvious A220-300, it also lists a potential A220-500.

And Air France-KLM is definitely not alone sharing the belief that the A220 family is missing a member and that a stretched version is possible. Previously, similar ideas have been publicly discussed by airBaltic, Delta, British Airways, and Korean Air bosses.

Airbus itself has been ambiguous when discussing the possibility, saying neither “yes” nor “no”. Take, for instance, the CEO of Airbus Canada Philippe Balducchi’s comments for Reuters in November 2019: “It’s no secret that the aircraft has a potential to be stretched, potential to grow,” Balducchi told the reporter. He also added that Airbus is primarily focused on fully establishing the two already existing A220 versions, before moving on to consider the stretch version.

So maybe 2020 becomes the year when Airbus finally commits itself to the idea?

Mitsubishi SpaceJet M90 service entry?

Mitsubishi announced its regional jet program (then called the Mitsubishi M90) in 2008 with the initial target date for the jet’s service entry set to 2013. After multiple delays, the manufacturer broke out of a standstill as the aircraft (now called the SpaceJet M90) entered flight testing in March 2019, bringing hope that the year 2020 becomes the year when we finally see it entering service.

However, SpaceJet M90 service entry with Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) in the mid-2020 now appears to be hanging on a thread. Reports indicate that the company is considering a possible pushback of the schedule by six months, in which case the service entry would likely be a year later ‒ in 2021.

In late November 2019, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Chief Executive Seiji Izumisawa told Reuters that he “cannot commit” to the mid-2020 hand-off date, thus indirectly confirming speculation of a schedule revision, which has been going on since October 2019. Back then, the company’s spokesperson told AeroTime “there has been no official announcement or comment on our schedule” back then. Whether or not SpaceJet M90 enters service on time, we will surely see a lot more of the Japanese regional aircraft in 2020.

New entrants to take final shape

Both Russian MC-21 and Chinese C919 commercial passenger jets are expected to finish certification and enter service in 2021. However, as the final year of development programs, 2020 should offer plenty of milestone news coming from both of them.

The MC-21, a Russian response to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 narrow-body families, is going to seat up to 211 passengers and have a maximum range of 3666 miles (5900 kilometers). Currently powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1400G-JM engines, the airliner will eventually have a second, Russian-made, engine option of Aviadvigatel PD-14.

The first MC-21 prototype made a maiden flight in May 2017 and currently, four MC-21-300 prototypes are undergoing testing. The latest (fourth) prototype made its first flight on December 25, 2019. The fifth prototype fuselage has already been assembled as well. What is special about this particular airframe is that it will be equipped with PD-14 engines. Flight tests of it are scheduled for 2020.

Besides the show-off of the new engines, the airliner is also expected to enter service with Aeroflot in 2020. However, UAC general director told Russia’s Federal Council (as reported by Russian Aviation Insider) of the plans to have six serially built MC-21 aircraft in 2021 and twelve 2022, indicating that service entry might have been postponed.

Meanwhile, the Chinese response to the same narrow-body category, the C919, is also moving forward and appears to be one step ahead of the Russian counterpart, as all six prototypes of the airliner-in the making are already flying.

China established COMAC in May 2008, announcing plans to produce its first commercial jetliner. The initial design was completed in April 2009, but the first C919 was presented to the public only in November 2015. In May 2017, the first prototype C919 successfully performed its maiden flight. In December 2019, the last two of six prototype aircraft began flight testing. COMAC is currently targeting 2021 for certification process culmination and first deliveries to customers.