Airlines keep putting off new deliveries, is the 777-9 doomed from day one?

Cathay Pacific added to the airlines woes yesterday by stating it no longer intends on taking its 777-9 order until “well past” 2025.

Other airlines are facing the inevitability of not taking on the enormous aircraft on anything like the schedule that Boeing will need to maintain any level of viability when it comes to building it.

The only major airlines who seem like they might, are those who now see themselves as over burdened with the modern white elephant of the A380. Emirates is so dependent on the aircraft that replacing it with a more economical one is now becoming a mid-term urgent issue. But even then, there’s a serious indication that there is no longer a market for such a huge aircraft.

Even when the market returns to anything like normal – now estimated to be no sooner than 2024-26, the way that people fly seems inevitably destined for a major change.

In many ways Emirates already recognised that before the pandemic. They took a decision to move entirely to just 777’s and A380’s, a policy that within 18 months was a glaring mistake, and the airline has already made plans to switch back to a wider range of aircraft.

Other than British Airways keeping its 12 A380’s – for now, and ANA whose use of three aircraft is highly specialised, nobody except Emirates seems to be willing to fly them. Now or in the future. Emirates has little choice – as soon as they can justify them they have to use them, and they haven’t even taken delivery of the last aircraft yet, and there are rumours that if they can get out of ever taking them they will.

For all the other airlines with orders of the 777-9, the idea of taking them in the next three years is worrying them sick. They simply can’t imagine how to use it or whose going to fly on it, never mind how they’ll pay for them, in the first half of this decade.

The airlines are starting to realise that the 777-9 is so large that its basically a twin engined A380. It might be more economical to fly but its scale is vast and other than its two decks its size is a familiar problem. The shear number of passengers it can carry is a problem in itself.

Airlines everywhere are still shedding cash at prodigious rates. American Airlines just announced the end of its A330 fleet and that ist deferring yet more 737MAX deliveries.

Around the world airlines are reporting their latest financial results and not one of them is having a good time. The market for large aircraft is so dried up it looks like the bottom of a river bed in northern Arizona.

The other end of the scale, small aircraft are in slow but growing demand. So much so that Airbus are actually planning A320 family increases in production by around 18-20% at the end of 2021.

There’s also a surprising amount of background enthusiasm for Airbus and its plans for hydrogen powered aircraft. From the Middle East through Europe, the prospect of building the infrastructure is seen as an economic challenge for the 21st century, and an opportunity to move on to greener power.

The only real problem is finding a way to produce the Hydrogen using clean energy – it’s possible, but it needs work. Airlines don’t see the problem in the long term. Clean hydrogen power will be cheap, because its emission free, it’ll make airlines more profitable, and while it’s still 15 years away, Airlines are by no means ruling it out.

Will they ever really take them?

The 777-9 is starting to look like a potential weight around airlines necks. Lufthansa and others dread the prospect of having to pay for these giant aircraft, especially when they can’t be sure they’ll ever be able to make them pay. Even the prospect of low cost fuel in the long term makes little or no difference.

What will Boeing do? Probably nothing, they can’t even see 6 months ahead never mind 10 years or more.