Seattle // Boeing has engaged Emirates Airline in plans to design its next-generation 777 aircraft amid expectations the carrier will be next in line to buy the wide-body jet.
Last Thursday, Lufthansa became the first airline to place an order for the long-range plane, announcing it would buy 34 777-9X.
Marty Bentrott, Boeing’s vice president of sales in the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia, refused to say whether Emirates would be next to place orders. But he said he was hopeful that Middle East carriers would be among the first customers.
“I have every confidence they [Middle East carriers] will be part of the launch of this aircraft,” Mr Bentrott said.
Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, which operates 130 777s, has said the airline plans to begin retiring the fleet by 2017.
He was quoted as telling the press in May that Emirates was planning a major order for 777X planes.
“We have been actively engaged with Emirates in the next generation 777. As the largest 777 customer in the world, they deserve our focus and our attention,” said Mr Bentrott.
“This aircraft needs to be effective for Emirates and its business plan because they have the 777 replacement cycle starting towards the end of this decade, and they expect us to be able to provide an aircraft much more efficient than today’s 777.”
Although Boeing has yet to formally launch the 777X, Boeing has already been marketing the 777X as it seeks to defend its lead over Airbus in the sales of wide-aisle aircraft.
The 777X, which competes against Airbus’s A350, burns 20 per cent less fuel and offers a 15 per cent operating improvement over the existing 777-300ER plane.
Lufthansa’s order, its largest ever, also includes 25 A350-900s.
The German airline is seeking to cut fuel usage while catching up with Middle East carriers on long-haul routes from Europe to Asia.
Separately, Boeing is gearing up for a busy Dubai Air Show that runs from November 17 to 21. At the last event two years ago, Emirates dominated the air show by making a US$18 billion order for 50 777s.
Boeing’s Mr Bentrott refused to be drawn on the potential orders likely to emerge during this year’s event.
“We are not [sure] exactly who is doing what yet,” he said. “But what I can say is [that] there are wonderful opportunities with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.”
The 777 is among Boeing’s most successful aircraft, with 271 currently on order by Middle Eastern carriers, more than other models.
Boeing says the 777X, which features an improved interior inspired by the 787 and a composite wing, will also offer the widest cabin in its class, providing 11 per cent more space than Airbus’s A350.
The region’s carriers have ordered 126 787s, 181 737s and 71 747s.
Boeing expects the Middle East would require 2,610 new airplanes worth an estimated $550bn between this year and 2032