The Boeing 777X folding wingtip will see plenty of action in one of the world’s busiest airports. International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, announced intentions to purchase up to 42 777X airplanes, including 18 orders and 24 options. With its hub at London’s Heathrow airport those special tips will be key to the aircraft’s ability to operate at the crowded field. The order was announced during IAG’s annual earnings report and is not yet finalized with Boeing.
“The new 777-9 is the world’s most fuel efficient longhaul aircraft and will bring many benefits to British Airways’ fleet. It’s the ideal replacement for the 747 and its size and range will be an excellent fit for the airline’s existing network. This aircraft will provide further cost efficiencies and environmental benefits with fuel cost per seat improvements of 30 per cent compared to the 747. It also provides an enhanced passenger experience.”
-Willie Walsh, IAG CEO
The 777-9 order will primarily replace the 747-400 at British Airways, keeping Boeing a part of the carrier’s large jet future. BA currently operates 34 747s leaving some wiggle room in the new order for other types to help offset the retirement of the queen of the skies. The carrier has not been shy about willingness to operate more A380s, for example, if the acquisition costs drop.
Similarly, the A350-1000 is part of the 747 replacement plan and could be a further replacement option for additional 747 retirements. Or the 777X options could be firmed, replacing the full 747 collection and even growing from there. The 18 777-9 will replace 14 747-400 and 4 777-200 aircraft between 2022 and 2025; the first 15 will come in 2022 and 2023.
BA intends to fit the 777-9s with 325 seats across four cabins. The first class section will shrink to 8 seats from the 14 currently on the 747, while the total seat count will be consistent, removing the variability between the two 747 configurations with different business class capacities.
On the wingtip front, the new technology does present questions around operations at the very congested Heathrow Airport. Getting the wingtips into place while not disrupting the highly choreographed flow of aircraft around the airport will prove an interesting challenge. It will all work, of course, but the extra bits like this in the background that passengers almost never see are a critical part of the air travel experience.