Boeing Defends 777X Aluminum Hull as Plastic A350 Flies

Boeing Co. defended the use of traditional aluminum for the fuselage of its upgraded 777 twin-aisle jet as Airbus SAS’s A350, a competing model made chiefly of composite plastic, takes the spotlight at the Paris Air Show.

Improved engines and wings on the 777X will make up for a heavier metal fuselage than the largest A350, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Officer Ray Conner told reporters today in Paris. The A350-1000 is due to enter service in 2017, while Boeing has said the 777X may debut by decade’s end.

“It won’t be that bad. I think we’re going to be in decent shape,” Conner said of the planes’ weight differential. “We still believe we have operating economics that will be better.”

Boeing decided against replicating the composite-plastic construction of the 787 Dreamliner, whose first delivery was more than three years late, and opted to use those materials on the 777X’s wings. The A350, which also suffered delays, made its first flight on June 14, days before aerospace executives began gathering for their industry’s biggest annual trade event.

Using the existing 777 production system is part of Chicago-based Boeing’s strategy to reduce the cost of airplane development, Conner said today.

Conner called the 777’s fuselage “proven” and among the most popular of wide-body planes. Boeing plans to modify the fuselage to make more space in the 777X, he said. The 777X will burn 20 percent less fuel and have a 15 percent operating improvement over the current 777-300ER, which has tallied 538 orders since the A350-1000 was unveiled, Conner said.

The newly designed A350 will have an advantage over Boeing’s revamp of the 20-year-old 777, John Leahy, Airbus’s chief salesman, said in an interview this month. Airbus has logged 110 firm orders for the A350-1000.

Boeing is holding detailed discussions about the 777X with prospective customers, who are “very excited about the potential of the aircraft,” Conner said. The 777X will have a maximum capacity of about 415 people in a three-class setup, while Airbus says the A350-1000 will carry about 350 passengers.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.