GE Redesigns Boeing 777X Engine Component, Delaying Plane's First Flight
by Robert Wall and Andrew Tangel
LE BOURGET, France--General Electric Co. (GE) is having to redesign an engine part for the new Boeing Co. (BA) 777X long-haul jet, the head of GE's aviation business said Monday, delaying the plane's first flight several months and potentially jeopardizing the first delivery of the aircraft to airline customers.
GE Aviation Chief Executive David Joyce told reporters at the Paris Air Show the redesign was necessary because the original component wasn't lasting as long as expected. Mr. Joyce said the engine should still get safety approval this year and begin powering the 777X first flight before the year end.
The first 777X test plane originally was due to fly in 2018 but has been repeatedly delayed.
GE found the component flaw about three weeks ago, according to Bill Fitzgerald, head of GE's commercial engine programs. The component is now in ground testing. Flight testing of the 777X will await the component redesign, he said.
"We're staying very close to the situation with GE," Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said Monday. Boeing, he said, wants "to get it right for first flight." The first jet should be delivered next year, he said.
Executives at Emirates Airline, the biggest customer for the plane, and Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA.XE) have already drawn up contingency arrangements in anticipation of delays. Both plan to keep older jetliners in the fleet longer to bridge the gap, at the cost of flying less-efficient planes.
Emirates was expecting it first plane 12 months from now. The world's largest international airline by traffic has ordered 150 777X planes and taken options to buy for 50 more.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said Monday that the Doha-based airline also expects delays in its first 777X delivery due mid-next year. By how long, he said, is unclear. Qatar would keep flying older 777s to cover the gap.
Boeing launched the 777X to replace its blockbuster 777-300ER with great fanfare in November 2013 in Dubai on Emirates's home turf. The plane maker has since booked 344 firm orders for the aircraft, including this year from British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG.LN). The plane costs up to $442.2 million before industry-standard discounts.
The 777X delays add to pressure on Boeing and GE, both of which are already grappling with the aftermath of two crashes of the 737 MAX single-aisle aircraft. Those have led to the fleet's global grounding in March and suspension of customer deliveries.
GE makes the engine for the MAX in partnership with France's Safran SA (SAF.FR).
Buyers of the 777X also are concerned the plane's approval by regulators could face delays as a fallout from Boeing's crisis with its 737 MAX. The two crashes of the MAX have led the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft's principal regulator, to review the safety-approval process for the jet. That review could lead to changes in how new plane models are approved.
Mr. McAllister said "we have teams working very closely between [the] 777X and the 737 MAX to make sure that any lessons learned...will be applied."