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Boeing says will delay first flight of long-range 777X

New CEO stands by 737 MAX, eyeing reset at troubled Boeing

Boeing late Wednesday said the flight would be delayed due to weather: “We are postponing the 777X first flight that was scheduled to take place tomorrow, Jan. 23, due to weather. The team is currently assessing the possibility of flying on Friday, January 24 and will notify you as soon as we have a new date.”
David Calhoun

Also on Wednesday, the New Boeing Executive Boss David Calhoun pledged a renewed commitment to safety and transparency and endorsing the long-term viability of the troubled 737 MAX plane

After a months of delays earlier, Boeing was sets to take the 777X aloft for its first test flight Thursday morning but now delay again..

The twin-aisle jet, built at Boeing’s main wide-body assembly plant in Everett, is scheduled to take off from Paine Field at 10 a.m. for what is planned to be a five-hour flight. The date could change due to weather and other factors, Boeing said.

If the test flight goes as planned, the 777X is expected to land at Seattle’s Boeing Field around 3 p.m.

The 777X, the company’s biggest capacity twin-engine passenger jet, is designed to carry more than 400 people.

Chicago-based Boeing has boasted that the 777X will be 10% more efficient than its rival, the Airbus A-350-1000. But first it has to pass a barrage of tests and regulatory scrutiny.

The first flight has been delayed by trouble with General Electric’s GE9X engines. The program is now behind schedule by about a year.

Barring any major obstacles, delivery of the first 777X isn’t expected to occur until early 2021. Even after a successful test flight, it can take a year or more for a new plane to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. In light of the certification process that gave a pass to a faulty control system on the 737 Max, the process for the 777X is likely to be more rigorous.

The 777X’s most distinctive design features are its carbon-composite wings and 11-foot folding wingtips. The design increases lift and reduces fuel consumption while still accommodating airports served by the present 777 series.

“This beautiful wing — 235 foot span — the span of this wing gives an enormous amount of lift capability while we minimize the drag with the composite wing technology, keeping the overall drag of the airplane low,” said Terry Beezhold, the project’s former chief engineer, in a 2017 company video. Beezhold has since been moved to another Boeing division.

“We also want (the plane) to be compatible at all of the airports that the current 777 operates in and out of. For that reason we developed the folding wingtip so that in flight we can enjoy this very long efficient span but be able to operate at any, any airport, any gate that today’s 777 can service,” Beezhold said.

While folding wings are common on military aircraft, this is the first time a commercial jet has sported folding wings.

Like the 737 Max, the 777X has been reconfigured for a bigger engine, in this case the world’s largest.

Customers had pressed Boeing since 2011 for an updated 777,” Kevin Michaels wrote in his 2018 book, “Aerodynamic: Inside the High-Stakes Global Jetliner Ecosystem.”

In 2013, Boeing received board of directors approval to offer a re-engined 777.

The test flight for the 777X was scheduled to take place last summer. After the engine problems were discovered, a first flight was expected in the fall, then delayed.

The test flight could be a morale boost for the company’s workers. Some of those who work on the 737 line in Renton were temporarily reassigned to Everett after Boeing suspended production of the Max this month. The 737 Max was grounded worldwide last March after it was involved in two fatal crashes within five months that killed 346 people. Boeing is not expected to resume production of the 737 Max until regulators re-certify it.

On Tuesday, Boeing said it now estimates that the 737 Max won’t be cleared for service until the middle of the year.

“This updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process. It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process,” Boeing said in a statement.

“It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review of the 737 MAX’s flight control system and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board process which determines pilot training requirements,” the statement said.

Boeing, Washington’s largest employer, will announce 2019 fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 29. The publicly disclosed losses from the 737 Max grounding, already in the billions of dollars, are expected to grow.

New CEO stands by 737 MAX, eyeing reset at troubled Boeing

- Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun sought to pivot from a bruising period of crisis and scandal on Wednesday, pledging a renewed commitment to safety and transparency and endorsing the long-term viability of the 737 MAX plane.

"I commit to you to be more accessible than the team has been," Calhoun said at the outset of an hour-long conference call with reporters, the first such event with a Boeing executive since the MAX was grounded in March following two deadly crashes.

Calhoun vowed a "safety first" culture and promised investment in the firm's engineers, who critics say have lost influence in the company's zeal to boost its share price.

Without safety "there is no shareholder value, there is no profit-sharing," Calhoun said a day after the company's decision to push back the timeframe for the MAX's return until at least midyear.

Calhoun reaffirmed his commitment to the MAX, saying "I believe in this airplane" and pointing to positive feedback from pilots as he dismissed speculation it could be grounded permanently.

A former General Electric and Blackstone Group executive who has been on the Boeing board since 2009, Calhoun took the corner office at Boeing this month after the company ousted Dennis Muilenburg in December.

Analysts have broadly supported the move, although some have questioned whether Calhoun's lengthy board tenure makes him an ideal agent of change.

The appearance came ahead of the first flight of the Boeing 777X, a key step in trying to jump-start a new model that has missed earlier deadlines.

Late Wednesday Boeing said the first flight, scheduled for Thursday, would be delayed "due to weather" but the company was assessing a possible Friday flight.

Sources have said the flight is scheduled to leave from Seattle, where rain was forecast for Thursday.

Calhoun's appearance also came hours after bruising comments from US President Donald Trump, who called Boeing a "very disappointing company" because of the MAX crisis.

- Protecting the dividend -

Calhoun responded to sometimes pointed questions from reporters with greater ease and less defensiveness than the more technocratic Muilenburg.

The former boss was savaged by lawmakers at congressional hearings and lost the confidence of airlines and regulators with a series of too-rosy predictions about the MAX that damaged credibility.

But Calhoun dismissed a question on whether Boeing would suspend or cut its dividend as a way to signal a shift in the company's orientation, saying the company has the financial capacity for the payoffs.

The policy will persist "unless something dramatic changes," he said.

And he largely downplayed a series of troubling internal emails in which employees ridiculed regulators, airlines and Boeing's safety culture.

The "appalling" messages were from a small group of employees and don't reflect the overall corporate culture, which is "good," he said.

"Our employees care about safety a lot but their confidence is shaken. I have to restore it."

- More 'realistic' timeframe -

The appearance came a day after Boeing announced it does not expect regulatory approval to return the MAX to service before mid-2020. The company this month suspended production on the jet, its top-selling plane.

Calhoun described a production ramp-up plan that will begin some months before mid-year, with the company's supply chain engaged "well before that."

Calhoun said Tuesday's new timetable followed a decision earlier this month to endorse simulator training for MAX pilots and reflected customers' desire for a more realistic schedule after Boeing missed MAX target dates repeatedly in 2019.

While there were multiple factors behind the two crashes, Calhoun highlighted in particular a wrong assumption by Boeing and regulators that pilots could quickly respond to the malfunctioning of a flight handling system and reassert control over the plane.

That system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, has been singled out as a central factor in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, which together claimed 346 lives.

Calhoun predicted the flying public would come around on the MAX after the jet gets a rigorous once-over from regulators and pilots.

(Herald net / AFP)

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