Boeing’s GE9X engine problems to affect 777X’s first flight?

Dan Nevill, CC BY-SA 2.0

Troubles continue at Boeing, and this time they revolve around the much anticipated 777X jetliner. Reports surfaced last week revealing that the company is facing challenges with General Electric’s new GE9X engine – the largest turbine engine purpose-built for the 777X jet. With the plane’s assembly delays and other hiccups, how might this impact the airliner deliveries target?

According to a top Boeing executive, pre-delivery testing glitches detected on the GE9X engine have further hampered the 777X program, Reuters reported on June 4, 2019. The program has already seen assembly delays on both the engine and the jet’s new carbon-composite wings.

Compounding the worries is, of course, the current Boeing crisis over the 737 MAX jetliners, a priority for the company at the moment. Recently, Boeing’s chief Dennis Muilenburg assured, however, that the controversy surrounding the certification of the now grounded MAX planes was unlikely to “significantly alter” the certification process and introduction of the new 777X.  

“I don’t see anything there right now that would significantly alter the timeline for the 777X, but it’s possible we could see something that would alter the content of the test program or how we go about certification,” Muilenburg said during a conference on May 29, 2019.

“The other pacing item for us is with GE on the engine and we’re continuing to work through engine testing and those two timelines will come together for flight testing later this year and then we still expect to achieve entry into service in 2020,” the Boeing CEO said.

The first of the two 777X variants – the 777-9 – was scheduled to take to the skies for its maiden flight at the end of June 2019, some sources indicating June 21 as the precise date. But it seems that date could be pushed back, running into July, given no more issues come up. This, in turn, puts the 777X’s 2020 entry into service target date into question as well.

And then there is the upcoming 2019 Paris Air Show, which will take place on June 17-23. The first test flight of the 777X can probably now be ruled out of Boeing’s plans for the event. According to sources familiar with the matter, the debut flight could occur in the U.S. at the same time as the air show, Reuters previously reported.

Boeing has been eager to publicize the development of the new 777X, particularly on the company’s official Twitter account, where it shared updates on the assembly of what is hailed to be the world’s largest twin-engine jet.

The plane maker revealed it had completed the first 777X ground test airplane in October 2018; and in January 2019, the company installed the first two massive GE9X engines on the new wide-body. The flight test plane was rolled out of Boeing’s Everett facility in Seattle on March 13, despite previous expectations to have its debut in February.

Production snags and delays are not new for Boeing. Last year, the U.S. plane maker was dealing with a pile up of 737 family jets at its facility in Renton, Washington, as key suppliers battled to keep up with ambitious production rates and increasing demand. Eventually, Boeing decided to cut production of the 737 in the third quarter of its financial year, concerned the deliveries of the jetliner would not meet the existing production rate.

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