Historic touchdown for $650m jet

Boeing’s new long-haul 777X airliner has completed its first flight – a step forward for the company whose broader prospects remain clouded by the 737 MAX crisis.

The world’s largest twin-engine aircraft landed at Boeing Field near Seattle on Saturday, local time, after about four hours in the air, following months of delays and erratic weather in recent days.

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High winds led to the maiden flight’s postponement on Friday, and the company blamed weather for an earlier delay on Thursday, which was rainy.

A Boeing 777X lands at Boeing Field in Seattle, after its first flight on Saturday, January 25. Picture: Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via APSource:AP

Boeing 777X chief test pilot Van Chaney (right) and co-pilot Craig Bomben, Boeing’s VP fight operations and chief test pilot, emerge from the 777X after landing. Picture: Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via APSource:AP

A few minutes after 10am local time, the plane took off from the rain-slicked runway at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, home to Boeing’s northwest US manufacturing site.

“Yes!” Boeing spokesman Josh Green shouted as the plane’s wheels finally lifted off the tarmac.

Just minutes earlier, the pilots deployed the plane’s winglets – folding wing tips – designed to improve the craft’s fuel efficiency and make it possible for the plane, with the widest wing span ever from Boeing, to be accommodated at more airports.

The plane comes in to land. Picture: Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via APSource:AP

The first flight was originally scheduled to take place in mid-2019 but was postponed due to problems with the new engine, manufactured by General Electric, and difficulties with the wings and software.

Saturday marked the first of what is to be a series of in-flight tests. If they go well, Boeing will officially file for approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The maiden flight is a major step forward for troubled Boeing. Picture: Jason Redmond / AFPSource:AFP

With Boeing facing a crisis over its top-selling 737 MAX following two deadly crashes, the 777X is supposed to compete in the long-haul aircraft market with the A350 made by rival European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

The flight was “a demonstration to the world that we know what we are doing. We know how to do aircraft designed safely and instil trust in the public,” said Stanley Deal, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Boeing says the 777X features giant carbon-composite wings, the largest Boeing has ever designed. Picture: Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via APSource:AP

Major airlines including Emirates, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways have placed some 340 orders for the 777X.

The first deliveries of the new model, with maximum capacity of 384 to 426 passengers depending on the configuration, are not expected before early 2021, instead of mid-2020 as initially planned.

The aircraft encountered significant problems during pressurisation tests in September.

Boeing employees and family members cheer the 777X as it lands. Picture: Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via APSource:AP


Boeing’s business has also been weakened by a lack of firm orders from Chinese airlines for its 787 Dreamliner, which is expected to force production cuts.

The 777X has a range of 16,200 to 13,500 kilometres depending on its configuration and the number of passengers aboard, according to the Boeing website. It is also extremely fuel-efficient, an important consideration at a time when passengers are increasingly concerned about carbon emissions.

Boeing staff cheer on the plane. Picture: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

Its list price is between $601 million to $649 million, though customers often negotiate discounts.

US air safety regulators could clear the 737 MAX to return to service before mid-year, a person close to the process said on Friday.

The plane has been grounded since March following two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. On Tuesday, Boeing announced that it did not expect to win regulatory approval until mid-2020.

The maiden flight took about four hours. Picture: Jason Redmond / AFPSource:AFP

In addition to the crisis of confidence, Boeing is seeking some $14.7 billion in loans to deal with swelling costs for the MAX.

Boeing suspended production of the MAX this month but chief executive David Calhoun said this week the company planned to begin ramping up production of the model in anticipation of winning regulatory approval to restart service.

Several of the world’s major airlines have the new jet on order. Picture: Jason Redmond / AFPSource:AFP

Mr Calhoun began as CEO earlier in January following the ousting of Dennis Muilenburg, whose tenure was rocked by the MAX crisis that led to deteriorating relations between the company and the FAA.

Mr Calhoun aims to turn the company around and has highlighted restoring Boeing’s reputation with regulators, customers and other stakeholders as an imperative.

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