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COVID-19 and the Future of the Boeing 777

It’s been a while since we last checked in, and let’s be honest, a lot has happened.

The airline industry has taken a huge hit since COVID-19 brought air travel to a near stand-still, and businesses across the U.S. don’t seem optimistic about a rapid economic recovery. Major airlines’ stocks plummeted in March, Compass Airlines closed its gateways for good in April, and Delta Air Lines announced in May that it will retire its Boeing 777 aircraft by the end of 2020.

Delta stated the coronavirus pandemic accelerated its plan to “simplify and modernize its fleet” by discontinuing flights on the wide-body aircraft in favor of its more cost-efficient planes, according to a statement released on May 14th.

Delta isn’t the only airline to phase out this jet. American Airlines is supposed to replace older aircraft with the Boeing 787-9 by 2023. This echoes what was Delta’s long term plans if not for the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Boeing 777 is still a staple of commercial airlines worldwide. These jets are popular cargo, mail and passenger planes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the plane was designed in consultation with eight leading airlines in 1990 to replace the aging McDonnell Douglas

DC-10 and Lockheed L1011 Tristar.

Since its introduction to service in 1995, the Triple Seven remains Boeing’s best-selling aircraft and the world’s largest twin-engine jet. (It’s famous for its gigantic engines - the GE9X are so large that the entire fuselage of a Boeing 737 could fit within its diameter.)

This January, ahead of the coronavirus’s devastating impact on airlines, Boeing released footage of its new 777X taking flight for the first time. The airplane has been in development for years, and the video narration listed eight major airlines that had already purchased the aircraft so far: All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.

The 777X was scheduled to start service at the end of 2020. Now, amid a global pandemic, where does this leave 777X production?

Employees returned to work on the 777 production line on April 20-21 after Boeing shut down its wide-body production facilities to slow the spread of coronavirus. Suppliers may continue to build parts for the aircraft, but there’s a possibility they won’t be able to deliver them for some time. In the coming months, managing Boeing’s supply chain options for hardware, electrical components, and aircraft instruments will be a critical component to determine the 777X rollout.

Until then, we can only admire the accomplishments of the prototype.

The new aircraft will deliver 10 percent lower fuel use and emissions and 10 percent lower operating costs than the competition while maintaining the high-performance features of the 777 family. Boasting the largest diameter turbofan engines of any aircraft, six wheels on each main bogey and a distinctive blade tail cone, the 777 aircraft can carry over 300 passengers up to a distance of 17,370 kilometers (9,695 NM).

In fact, the Triple Seven comes up frequently on the list of longest commercial flights. It broke the record for the longest non-stop commercial flight in 2017 when Qatar Airways started its 14,535-kilometer Aukland-Doha route flown by 777-200LR. The Boeing 777 held this title until 2018 when Singapore Airlines introduced its Newark-Singapore route aboard the Airbus A350-900.

It’s impressive flight time and distance is why Delta initially ordered the plane in 1999 and 2008. According to the Delta release, the “aircraft was uniquely positioned to fly non-stop between Atlanta and Johannesburg, South Africa, Los Angeles to Sydney and other distant destinations.”

Today, writing through quarantine, all we’re looking forward to are all the destinations the Triple Seven will take us to in the future.

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