Boeing is set to delay the delivery of its flagship 777X jet by between six and 12 months according to sources in Dubai.
Emirates the plane’s major customer has suggested that 2022 is a more likely introduction date.
Boeing has told Reuters that it is continuing 777X flight tests and “working closely with our customers around the world as they continue to adapt to the evolving COVID-19 situation.”
The 777X is a major upgrade of the popular 777-300ER and incorporates 787 composite technology and a new engine from General Electric.
The program has been delayed by engine issues and increased scrutiny from the US regulator the Federal Aviation Authority.
Boeing has sold 309 777X planes – worth US$442M each at list prices – but some industry observers have questioned its dependence on Middle East carriers, which are scaling back orders says reporting agency Seeking Alpha.
The 777X has been sold to blue-chip airlines; Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, All Nippon Airways, and Lufthansa.
But all of these airlines have had their traffic slashed by COVID-19, particularly for long-haul for which the 777X is designed.
While traffic is recovering overseas and is up to 45 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels, it is mainly China and US domestic travel as well as intra-Europe – not the province of the 400-seat 777X.
Qatar Airways’ chief executive Akbar Al Baker told West Business last month that the airline had notified Boeing and Airbus that it will not be taking any aircraft this year or next.
“All the other aircraft that we have on order that was supposed to be delivered to us within the next two or three years will now be pushed back to as long as 8 to 10 years,” Mr Al Baker said.
However, the shining light for the 777X are its economic and environmental credentials and with the grounding of the A380 and 747 jumbos across the globe it is now the premier aircraft in the size matters stakes.
Airlines have grand plans for the 777X interior and in the post-COVID-19 travel world airlines will be scratching for the slightest advantage to lure business passengers.
While COVID-19 has pushed back the environment as a hot topic it is expected to be front and center next year with travelers more discerning than ever before about their safety and CO2 impact.
The 777X uses about 40 percent less fuel and thus CO2 per passenger than the 747-400.