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How has British Airways been hit by Boeing’s 777X and 787 problems?

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If you thought Boeing’s woes were over now that the 737MAX is back in the skies, think again. The aircraft manufacturer is experiencing something of a horrendum decennium as it deals with delays and faults on virtually all of its aircraft types.

With the end of 747-8 production last year, Boeing now manufactures three aircraft families:

  • The 737 and 737MAX, its narrow-body workhorse
  • The 787 Dreamliner, the mid-size long haul aircraft
  • The 777, its large wide-body and the largest commercial twin-jet in existence, soon to get even bigger with the launch of the 777X
Boeing 777X 787 737 Max

All three programs have faced issues on and off since at least 2018 and there appears to be little end in sight until at least 2025.

Whilst deliveries of the 737MAX restarted in December 2020, 787 deliveries were suspended in October 2020. A handful were handed over to airlines in spring 2021 before deliveries were once again suspended.

At the same time, Boeing’s next big aircraft project – effectively ‘MAX’ing the 777 twin aisle – has faced numerous delays. This aircraft won’t start commercial operations until 2025 at the earliest, five years later than originally planned.

Boeing 777X delayed until 2025

As the biggest twin-engine aircraft available, the 777 is a workhorse for virtually all major airlines. The 777X, a stretched and re-winged 777 with first-of-its-kind folding wingtips, is likely to follow in the same vein. It is now the largest commercial aircraft available to order given that the 747-8 and A380 have ceased production.

Despite this, it hasn’t exactly flown off the shelves and has managed just over 300 orders so far. By comparison, the 787 had over 1,000 orders in the decade after launch.

The big news this week is that Boeing has quietly delayed commercial entry for the 777X again, this time to 2025.

When it was first launched in 2013, the 777X was due to enter service in 2020 with Lufthansa and Emirates, both of whom were early customers. Since order books opened the aircraft has been delayed numerous times:

  • initially to 2021 due to problems faced by the GE engines being used
  • …. then to 2022 because of reduced demand during covid
  • last year, the FAA said it could not certify the aircraft until 2023 at the earliest due to various issues including software delays
  • Emirates CEO Tim Clark said numerous times in 2021 he isn’t expecting deliveries until early 2024 at the earliest

Reuters is now reporting that the 777X won’t make its debut until early 2025, and this date has also been backed up by Tim Clark.

Part of the problem is that the 777X is the first major airplane to be certified following the 737MAX crisis. It is facing significantly increased regulatory scrutiny from both the US FAA and Europe’s EASA.

Boeing 777X

The 737 MAX 10 programme is also under pressure. A US law introduced in 2020 mandates a December 2022 deadline for new cockpit safety standards to be introduced, and this work has not yet been completed.

The issue is a major headache for airlines, particularly Emirates which is increasingly unhappy with the delays. Emirates has 115 x 777X planes on order to replace ageing aircraft and eventually the A380 fleet. It is now expecting a capacity crunch in the middle of this decade that will force it to extend the life of 80 A380 and 40-50 older 777s by six to ten years.

The delays also mean that Lufthansa’s much vaunted new 777X business class cabin, which was a “key factor” in Skytrax awarding the airline 5-Star status, will enter service seven years after the award was granted. The seat will appear on select A350s and 787s before it appears on a 777X. (Yes, Skytrax can be ‘persuaded’ to give your airline 5-Star status to reflect seats which don’t actually exist …..)

British Airways 787

787 deliveries have also been suspended

The 787 project is similarly beleaguered. After getting off to a rocky start – remember the battery fires? – Boeing did manage to ramp up production and start regular deliveries.

However, the 787 has been plagued by questions over quality control since its launch. It spurred a 2014 investigation by Al Jazeera that culminated in a 45 minute documentary called ‘Broken Dreams’ which you can watch on YouTube here.

Boeing’s Charleston factory has received particularly scrutiny for its shoddy production quality that has left tools and other debris within the aircraft frame. It lead to Qatar Airways refusing to accept delivery of any Charleston-built planes. A later New York Times investigation also found reports of staff being pressured not to report violations.

In September 2020 the FAA launched an investigation into quality control lapses and suspended all 787 deliveries after Boeing grounded eight aircraft. The majority of the in-service fleet continues to fly.

Initially, the problem involved ‘skin flatness’ where the carbon fibre fuselage pieces were joined. Deliveries then restarted – briefly – in Spring 2021 before the pause button was hit again after reports of fuselage problems. No 787s have been delivered since, down from a historic production rate of 12 per month.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Reuters is reporting that Boeing has informed airlines and suppliers that it expects to be able to resume 787 deliveries in the second half of the year. Boeing has over a hundred 787s that are currently awaiting delivery, although it’s not clear how many of these will need further inspection and remedial work.

Airlines are just as keen for deliveries to restart in order to mitigate a capacity crunch. Both United and American Airlines have had to cut capacity and suspend routes as anticipated aircraft arrivals have been delayed.

United was expecting eight 787 deliveries in 2021 but has so far received none, whilst American Airlines has cancelled or reduced flights on several key routes.

British Airways BA 777X 777 9X

What does this mean for British Airways?

British Airways hasn’t remained unscathed by Boeing’s problems. The most visible impact is a raft of missing 787-10 deliveries.

Boeing completed delivery of 30 x 787-8 and 787-9 aircraft to BA between 2013 and 2018, which remain in operation.

In early 2020, BA received its first two 787-10s, the largest variant and the first of twelve on order. Unfortunately, it has not received any more since then. A further five have already been manufactured and are currently in storage at Boeing due to the delivery delays.

BA is also a customer for the 777X, with 18 x 777-9s on order. Initially, it was expecting to receive these from this year but these are now not likely until 2025 or 2026. This will also delay the launch of BA’s next-generation First Class seat, due to debut on the 777-9.

Fortunately, BA has taken delivery of another four Airbus A350s in the past two months, taking its fleet to 12, which is helping to plug the capacity gap.

Capacity issues at BA are unlikely to rear their head until 2023 or 2024. Right now, BA is struggling to recruit enough cabin crew to operate its existing fleet. With BA’s 747 fleet retired in 2020 rather than phased out by 2025 as per the original plan it will remain a significantly smaller airline post pandemic for some years to come.

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Comments (61)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Greenpen says:

    I would not fly on the B737 Max. Already cost me cash as choose a more expensive LATAM over Gol for a Brazilian domestic.

  • Lady London says:

    Why is anyone still ordering the 777? Is it its cargo capacity? It’s noisy inside and out (I know this because 2 BA 777’s fly over my house a lot of nights heading to Africs) and inside, compared to A380 & A350, the air is much poorer and longhaul you arrive in worse condition on a 777.

    So why is anyone still ordering the 777?

    • Chris L says:

      I believe the new versions of the 777 solve these issues. Big plane, big capacity, but only 2 engines…much more efficient than an A380.

      • kiran_mk2 says:

        I thought the 777x fuselage was pretty similar to previous generations and it was just the wings / engines that had been redesigned? My understanding is that it’s the composite nature of the A350/787 that allows greater humidities / cabin pressures (6000 feet vs 8000 feet on older aircraft) that really give the benefits to passengers. I think it’s similar to the A320/A330neo families which are still based on old fuselages so can’t increase cabin pressure to relieve jet-lag despite the newer engines.

  • @mkcol says:

    Has BA got all their A380s back in service now?

  • Optimus Prime says:

    Have a SEA-HNL flight operated by AS on a 737MAX next year. I’ll update my will and post a farewell message here just in case…

  • G says:

    If it’s Boeing, I ain’t going.

  • insider says:

    BA I’m sure will be happy with the delays at the moment given the last 2 years. It means they’ll not be paying expensive pre-delivery payments, and they can delay the capex on the aircraft for a couple more years, whilst flying a bit more shorthaul in the meantime to cover slots. Not having a massive outlay of cash shortly after the pandemic can only be a good thing for them

    • Rhys says:

      I’m sure they were last year. In the years to come? Maybe not so much. You can’t max out profits if you don’t have enough aircraft.

      • Mark says:

        And do we really think 2025 or 2026 is realistic for commencement of delivery to BA given they are some way down the queue? I’m not sure if BA have any options on further A350 delivery slots that haven’t lapsed, but I’d have thought they’d be seriously looking to exercise those if there are… the 777-200ERs are due for retirement from 2027 onwards in any case.

  • dougzz99 says:

    737MAX and Boeing doubters maybe just stay home, going outside too unsafe for you. I’ve just driven in rush hour traffic from Garden Grove to LAX, I’d take 50 MAX flights before doing that again. It’s all about relative risk.

    • Mark says:

      Given what happened it’s understandable, even if somewhat illogical – the focus and numerous issues that were fixed during the grounding ought to make it one of the safest aircraft in the skies… as per the point of the article though that’s not really the issue for Boeing now, but the knock-on scrutiny on the 787 and 777X programmes, which given the numerous stories of quality issues on the former is also understandable.

      What I really fail to understand was what was going through the heads of those who designed the 737Max MCAS system. The failings were so basic anyone with any design experience and sense must have realised it was unsafe, and yet they went ahead anyway. You have to wonder about a major aircraft manufacturer with a safety culture so broken that it got to that point, and that’s before we even get into the whole piece about them not wanting to tell anyone about design changes in order to keep pilot training costs down, and hence make it more ‘commercially attractive’. Clearly there was, and probably still is, a lot to fix.

  • Neil says:

    Interesting article on the BA A380 here, it says by August it will exceed its pre pandemic A380 flights

    • Mark says:

      Presumably means the rest of the fleet will be back and operating shorter routes on average which, give the situation in Asia – Hong Kong, particularly – is unsurprising.

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