SEATTLE -- Boeing's biggest customer for the 777 wants to know what's next for the model.
“We’re pushing very hard to come up with a successor to it,” said Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline -- the largest 777 operator in the world with nearly 200 of the big Boeing jets in service or on order.
The 777 is considered Boeing’s cash cow -- the company's most profitable jet. The plane’s sales took off in the mid-1990s because it was so fuel efficient.
But that was 17 years ago, and while Clark and others have pushed Boeing to add seat capacity and boost the range of 777s, he said he fears high oil prices are all but permanent -- so he is pushing Boeing for more changes, a model now called the 777-X.
“Give me a 20-percent reduction in trip economics than I get on the ER today," Clark said, referring to the 777-300ER, which stands for Extended Range.
“That would be 400 passengers and ten tons of freight. Are they there? Probably not. Are they close? Maybe,” Clark said.
Boeing has not disclosed much about the 777-X (or whatever the company eventually calls the new model). Ideas include an all plastic composite wing with an aluminum body. The composite wing would be based on lessons learned from Boeing's smaller-but-fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing is talking about bringing a new 777 to market by the end of the decade. Clark said he would like to see the plane even sooner ... and he said he is prepared to convert some 50 existing orders and options to the future jet.
“I might go for some,” said Clark.
But with 777s in the Emirates Airline livery rolling out of Boeing’s Everett factory routinely, is he concerned about labor strife at the company, such as the current stand off with some 23,000 engineers and technicians represented by SPEEA?
“Emirates distances itself from labor disputes that come in through the supply chain wherever that might be in the world,” Clark said.
But he added: “Boeing and Airbus have had histories of industrial difficulties, and they’ve managed to get themselves through that.”