Boeing Shoehorns More Seats Onto 777 Jet by Shrinking Lavatories

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Screens are illuminated in the economy-class cabin on board an American Airlines Group Inc. Boeing Co. 777-300ER aircraft at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, June 13, 2014.

Screens are illuminated in the economy-class cabin on board an American Airlines Group Inc. Boeing Co. 777-300ER aircraft at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, June 13, 2014.

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

As Boeing Co. tries to bolster sales of its largest twin-engine jetliner, no detail is too small. One result: It found room to shoehorn in as many as 14 more seats by shrinking the lavatories.

Adding capacity on the 777-300ER is part of Boeing’s quest to drum up orders for a best-selling aircraft line into the next decade as it prepares to start building the upgraded 777X. Engineers also lightened the plane by 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms) by rehanging the overhead bins.

“The market reaction has been good -- really positive,” 777 General Manager Elizabeth Lund said at a briefing at Boeing’s wide-body factory in Everett, Washington, ahead of the Paris Air Show later this month.

With improvements to the engines, the control surfaces on the wings and other efforts to cut kerosene-guzzling weight, Boeing expects to boost fuel economy by about 5 percent, Lund said. The upgrades should be ready next year in time for the first deliveries of United Airlines’ 777-300ERs, Lund said.

The shift to the “enhanced -300ER makes a great transition from the 777 to 777X,” she said. The -300ER is the biggest version of the 777 family, and typically seats about 386 people in a three-cabin configuration, according to Boeing’s website.

Focusing on small efficiency gains is part of a larger move under way at Chicago-based Boeing as the company concentrates on innovation that will speed planes through its factories instead of “moonshot” product breakthroughs.

Paris Theme

That theme is likely to resonate at the Paris show this year, the aerospace industry’s largest annual gathering, according to Michel Merluzeau, vice president for global aerospace business development with consultant Frost & Sullivan.

With Boeing, Airbus Group SE and other planemakers landing orders at a slower pace in 2015 after three record-breaking years, investors are focusing on how the companies will make good on a backlog of almost 14,000 aircraft. Those planes are valued at about $1.1 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Orders bring the potential for innovation,” Merluzeau said in a telephone interview. “How to do the things we are going to do better, with lower cost?”

Boeing has pledged to generate operating cash flow of more than $9 billion this year even after seeing outflows during the first quarter. It’s finally starting to make good on the streamlined assembly originally envisioned for the plastic-composite 787, which stumbled to market three years late in 2011 after supplier and design hiccups.

Assembly Pace

“Flow,” a measure of the time needed to put together 787s in Washington and South Carolina, has dropped by 30 percent in the first half of this year, according to Larry Loftis, the general manager of the Dreamliner program.

“Today we’re at 30 days, going to 24 days” for each plane in final assembly, Loftis said.

Robots feature heavily in Boeing’s plans to build the 777X, with the technology due for initial testing and refinements on about 150 current-model 777s before the first upgraded plane is assembled in Everett ahead of its 2020 debut. Instead of being riveted together by machinists, the fuselages will be constructed using only automated technology.

“We’re trying to pull ahead the production system we’ll need for the 777X to the 777,” Lund said. “We’ll de-risk it, work out all the bugs and slowly transition” to full production.

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