As Boeing is evaluating its response to the potential threat posed by the A350-1000, the Chicago-based airframer is mulling a Performance Improvement Package (PIP) for the 777-300ER that will see its fuel burning being further reduced by 4%. Airways Aviation News takes a closer look at the study.

Boeing President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jim McNerney recently revealed on the Cowen & Co. conference that “we have a little time to look at alternatives as we see a little more about the -1000″ in response to a journalist’s question on how will Boeing react to the poorly-selling A350-1000.

Having secured 18 new orders even in such a challenging year while the A350-1000 didn’t receive a single one in 2009, the 777-300ER has once again demonstrated that it is the most capable airplane today as well as in the foreseeable future, offering a superior Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 775,000 lbs whereas the A350-1000’s figure stands at 657,000 lbs which is significantly lower and is often complained by its Middle-Eastern customers (“A350-1000: Extra widebody, Extra headaches“, 8th Sep 09).

“The 777 is the premier airplane in the 300-400-seat market segment. It offers superior payload, range, reliability, efficiency, operating cost and passenger experience compared to today’s competition,” Boeing spokesman Bob Saling concedes.

“Looking ahead for the 777, we are committed to maintaining our leadership in this segment. Between now and the end of the decade, there are many attractive near- and long-term options for continuous improvement – ranging from drag and maintenance improvements, to new engines and wing, to an all-new airplane – that will keep our product offering on the forefront of this market segment. No commitments have been made at this time,” Saling adds.

Indeed, Boeing has a proven track record in continuously improving  the 777-300ER, from its fuel-burning figure at 2.9 L of fuel per passenger per 100 km at EIS (Entry Into Service) back in 2004 being reduced by 3.6% to 2.8 L, and with this latest PIP, should it be launched, its fuel-burn can reach an awesome 2.6 L, matching that of the 787-8 and 747-8.

“Yes, the performance improvement package under study for the 777-300ER includes a further 4 percent improvement, which would potentially reduce fuel burn to 2.6 liters of fuel per passenger per 100 km with nine abreast economy seating, or even a bit better with ten abreast economy seating. This data is related to a factory production version of the package,” Boeing spokesman Bob Saling laments.

Not only will this reduce the 777-300ER’s fuel burn, this will also lead to an increased payload/range at a time when there is only a 4% difference between the 777-300ER and the A350-1000’s range, which is standing at 7,930 nm and 8,000 nm, respectively.

Further taking into account that the baseline A350-900 is currently around 7 tonnes overweight, this PIP means that the 777-300ER could at least match it since the overweight issue on the -1000 is understood by Airways Aviation News to be more serious than the -900.

“Yes, with the same fuel tank capacity the airplane would have a range increase,” Saling confirms.

“As with previous performance improvement packages, we would focus on aerodynamic improvements to the fuselage and wing.  We aren’t able to be more specific at this time,” Saling explains.

Image Courtesy of Boeing

According to Airways Aviation News‘ understanding on the matter, this PIP study currently does not include an upgrade from its GE90-115B engines, although the engine-maker has been successful in further trimming fuel burn continuously.

“Yes, GE has rolled out a new software for the engine that improves cruise SFC through the clearance control element. Almost the entire fleet has been retrofitted with the new software,” General Electric (GE) spokesman Case Deborah reveals.

“[As a result, there is an] 0.1 – 0.3% SFC improvement,” Deborah adds.

“Once committed, we anticipate that the performance improvement package could enter service on production airplanes in 2013,” Boeing spokesman Bob Saling further elaborates.

However, Saling points out that a retrofit version of this PIP may only provide a smaller reduction in fuel burning than the production PIP version.

“For a retrofit version, we are unable to provide an entry-into-service timeframe at this time. There may some differential between the benefits of production and retrofit versions,” Saling cautions.

“As you are probably aware, Boeing works to continuously improve its products and the benefits they bring to our customers. The existing 777 Performance Improvement Package (PIP) that we offer for the 777-200, 777-200ER and 777-300 are examples of this. The PIP under development is just one step as we continue to study many other improvements that could be brought to market later in the decade. Again, we are committed to maintaining our leadership in this segment,” Saling emphasizes.

Well, whether Boeing will launch this PIP or a re-winged version of the 777-300ER, or even launch a clean-sheet design, Boeing President and CEO Jim McNerney cannot be more accurate in pointing out that the A350-1000 will indeed be hard-pressed to prove its value.

Commenting on the matter, aerospace analyst Saj Ahmad from FleetBuzz Editorial.com says:

“The 777 PIP evolution provides an interim fuel burn cut that takes away some of the perceived A350 advantages. While Boeing has time to decide what steps it will take to compete with the A350-1000, the 777 has demonstrated time and again that even the most modest changes can yield significant benefits for operators.”

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