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By Doug Cameron
Boeing Co.'s new 777X jetliner successfully completed its maiden flight Saturday, starting the clock on expected reforms in how regulators approve aircraft for service in the wake of two fatal crashes involving 737 MAX planes.
The twin-aisle 777X is a refresh of a best-selling model that first flew in 1994. It is already behind schedule following technical problems and is due to enter service during a downturn in orders for larger planes that has forced Boeing to trim production rates.
The first 777X took off from a Boeing production facility north of Seattle and flew for nearly four hours after two previous efforts were scrubbed last week because of poor weather.
The flight provides Boeing with a lift ahead of its quarterly earnings report on Jan. 29, with some analysts forecasting a multibillion-dollar annual loss because of charges tied to the MAX, with production of the plane suspended and no commercial flights expected to resume before midyear.
The MAX crisis has focused attention on Boeing's twin-aisle planes. Dubai-based Emirates Airline is due to receive the first 777X, which can seat more than 400 passengers and carriers a list price of $420 million. Boeing has had to push deliveries back until next year, following problems with new GE9X engines made by General Electric Co.
The delivery timing hinges on how regulators progress with the certification of the 777X, which is being scrutinized -- like the MAX -- as a derivative of an existing design rather than an all-new aircraft. The 777X includes revamped wings with folding tips to fit in airport gates, as well as all-new engines and other changes including a stretched fuselage.
David Calhoun, Boeing's new chief executive, this week said certification is set to change for all new planes amid the ongoing review of the MAX.
"The certification process is a new one and it's going to get applied to every next airplane, so we have a lot of planning to do around the 777X, etc., to make sure that we can accommodate a really thorough review and investigation," he told reporters. "It's just the way it's going to be."
Overseas regulators, including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, have indicated they will conduct a parallel review of the 777X, a departure from established practice in which they have usually deferred to the decisions of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Over the years, EASA, as the Cologne, Germany-based agency is known, and the FAA have worked out procedures to rely extensively on each other to lead safety approval of new aircraft on either side of the Atlantic, typically with limited involvement by the other agency.
The uncertainty over when the 777X will enter service coincides with a sluggish recent order history. Boeing has firm orders for 309 of the jets from nine customers, 200 of them from the Middle East trio of Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.
Production of the existing 777 has already been cut to around 3.5 a month, and could be trimmed further as Boeing works through the 777X certification. Boeing plans to cut monthly output of the smaller 787 jetliner to 12 from 14 later this year.
Write to Doug Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 25, 2020 17:42 ET (22:42 GMT)
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