Boeing’s flagship 777X is edging ever closer to entering service. Plagued with delays, it finally took its first flight in January this year. Since then, several prototypes have entered the testing program, getting every kink worked out ahead of its delivery to launch customer Emirates, now slated for 2022.
This first 777X will be the larger of the two tabled variants – the 777-9. This aircraft is 76.7 meters long and will fly some 414 passengers to a range of 7,525 miles. The smaller variant, as yet untimetabled for entry, will be 69.8 meters long, with a capacity for 365 passengers and an impressive range of 8,690.
Often, when Boeing begins with a -9, it not only shrinks the airframe for an -8 but also stretches it for a -10. We’ve seen it in the 787 program, and even the MAX family of aircraft. Will Boeing stretch the 777X to give us a 777-10 in the future?
What would a 777-10X look like?
There’s no reason that the 777X couldn’t be stretched into a larger variant. In fact, at the Farnborough Air Show in 2016, Boeing Commercial CEO Ray Conner confirmed that the 777-10X was entirely plausible, according to a report in FlightGlobal.
He said that such a plane would add another four rows to the existing 777-9, enhancing capacity by 40 seats in a 10 abreast configuration, which would give a total passenger count of around 450. That far exceeds the capacity of the largest Airbus A350-1000 and starts to encroach on some of the least dense A380s for seat count.
Given what we know about the two variants on offer already, we can make some assumptions about size and range. The stretch would likely take the fuselage length to around 82 meters, but the range would likely take a hit. We could expect the -10X to be limited to under 7,000 miles unless MTOW and fuel capacity were significantly enhanced.
Will it ever be built?
In theory, it would be relatively inexpensive for Boeing to develop the -10X. Analysis by Airways Mag suggests it would require an investment of $800 million to $1.2 billion – relatively small change for a big company like Boeing.
Something that could spur the development of this larger 777X would be if Airbus revisited the idea of an A350 stretch. Previously dubbed the A350-1100 or the A350-2000, the European planemaker has mooted a larger model to compete with the 777X but has yet to make any decisive moves.
With the production of the A380 ending, Airbus could well contemplate development of something big. The issue for Airbus is that, without significant improvements to the wing or powerplants, a larger aircraft will require more runway to take off. This is one area where Boeing would face fewer challenges, thanks to the massive GE9X engines and astonishing wingspan.
Although it would be relatively easy and not too expensive for Boeing to introduce a stretched 777X, there’s no point unless the market demands it. Without significant interest from airlines, it would be a wasted investment.
Given the current market conditions, the need for a large capacity aircraft is much reduced. If Boeing were to develop a 777-10X, it would likely not be until travel demand stabilizes, which could take many years.