Aside from a new regional flat bed Business Class for its upcoming Boeing 737 MAX narrow-body aircraft, the next major evolution for Singapore Airlines’ First and Business Class seats will be unveiled with brand new products designed for the Boeing 777X series.
Singapore Airlines made a commitment to purchase 20 Boeing 777-9s back in February 2017, converting it into a firm order in October that year. Service entry was originally slated for 2021, though that had already slipped to 2022 following production delays.
The latest delay
Announcing its fourth quarter results in late January, Boeing confirmed that its 777X series development would again be prolonged, with the first customer delivery now planned for “late 2023”.
The new delay is partly due to “making prudent design modifications” related to the jet’s actuator controls, according to Boeing CEO David Calhoun.
“We’re working closely with global regulators on all aspects of the 777X development. This involves listening to all their feedback and applying lessons learned from our experiences on the 737 MAX program recertification and applying to our 777X certification plan. It also involves making prudent design modifications as necessary to meet the various global regulators’ expectations.
“As part of our assessment, we’ve made the decision to implement certain modifications to the aircraft design. Our decision to make these modifications, which will involve firmware and hardware changes to the actuator control electronics reflects our current judgment of global regulators’ compliance expectations. This decision has led to these revised schedule assumptions.”David L. Calhoun, CEO, The Boeing Company
That’s a long-winded way of saying “the regulators told us to fix X, otherwise the aircraft won’t be approved, so we are fixing X”.
Aviation regulators, in particular the US Federal Aviation Administration, were strongly criticised in the aftermath of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crashes, with accusations of inadequate regulatory oversight.
That may explain why this new aircraft is coming under such close scrutiny.
The fresh delay also comes about from what the manufacturer calls “the latest assessment of COVID-19 impacts on market demand”.
With the first delivery now slated for “late 2023”, Singapore Airlines would be likely to get its first jets in 2024, since it is not a launch customer for the type. Both Lufthansa and Emirates are due to receive their 777-9s before SIA, with Tim Clark of Emirates already suggesting only last month that service entry for its aircraft may slip into 2024.
This latest version of the popular 777 series, the Boeing 777X family, will be the largest twin-jet aircraft ever built, promising more efficiency for airlines and better passenger comfort, but it’s fair to say its production hasn’t been plain sailing.
First delivery of the type to Lufthansa was targeted for summer 2020, believe it or not, which means the aircraft is already supposed to be in service based on original plans.
Delays to the programme started in mid-2019.
- June 2019: A compressor anomaly found with the aircraft’s GE9X engines delayed the first flight from June 2019 to January 2020.
- September 2019: A passenger door blew off the 777X static test airframe during its FAA-observed ultimate load test, which was being conducted with the airplane stressed and pressurised beyond normal operating limits.
- July 2020: Boeing delayed the programme due to the industry situation caused by COVID-19, pushing first customer deliveries to 2022.
- January 2021: This latest delay is a result of actuator control modifications to satisfy regulators, plus the prolonged COVID-19 impact for customers.
New cabin products
In March 2018, as Singapore Airlines was taking delivery of its first Boeing 787-10, CEO Goh Choon Phong revealed that the carrier was developing a brand new First Class and Business Class cabin product for the Boeing 777-9.
“We believe when we launch it, we will set an industry standard.
“(SIA will) be going out to our consumers and customers to get better ideas about what it is they really want in the next quantum leap of service and product.”Goh Choon Phong, CEO, Singapore Airlines
Unfortunately this latest delay means we’ll all be waiting longer to experience these First and Business Class cabin concepts, which we first expected to see entering service this year.
Singapore Airlines is keeping tight-lipped over the details of its new cabins, though several of its top-tier flyers have been shown a preview, subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
A wider cabin on the Boeing 777-9 and six-metre extension to its forward section between the first and second set of aircraft doors, compared to the 777-300ER, gives airlines a great opportunity to experiment and innovate with fresh ideas especially in the First Class / Suites sphere.
New First Class cabin products on the aircraft are expected not just from SIA, but also from Emirates, Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific, on at least some of their aircraft.
In Business Class we’ll all be keen to see whether Singapore Airlines is set to follow the lead of several other carriers in recent years, like Qatar Airways and British Airways, in launching closed-door suites.
This new delay to the Boeing 777-9 will likely leave the upcoming Thompson Vantage Business Class on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 as SIA’s only new cabin product launch for the next three years or more.
2024 is probably the earliest delivery
One point worth mentioning is that Singapore Airlines still hasn’t revealed the outcome of its negotiations with Boeing regarding future aircraft deliveries, assuming those talks have indeed now concluded.
The SIA Group has concluded negotiations with Airbus on a revised aircraft delivery schedule incorporating deferrals for part of the aircraft on order.
Negotiations with Boeing on aircraft currently on order are at an advanced stage.Singapore Airlines half year financial results, 6th November 2020
In that sense, 2024 now looks to be the earliest the airline will take delivery, however a longer delay may have already been negotiated.
Cathay Pacific, for example, had already pushed back its first Boeing 777-9 delivery to “beyond 2025”, well before this latest programme delay was announced. There’s every possibility SIA has already agreed a similar timing with Boeing.
With the Airbus A380 already out of production and Boeing ceasing its 747 line in 2022 (with no outstanding orders for its 747-8i passenger variant), the 777-9 is likely to become the largest passenger aircraft in service for many airlines over the next decade.
Following this latest programme delay, however, Singapore Airlines likely won’t receive its first of 20 Boeing 777-9 aircraft until 2024 at the earliest.
While the airline is unlikely to be concerned by the added wait, given its prolonged COVID-19 recovery, it does mean we’ll all have to wait a lot longer for the curtain to be raised on SIA’s newest First and Business Class products, which were originally set to enter service this year.
Let’s hope the Boeing 737 MAX Business Class is impressive, because it’s the only brand new seat we’ll be getting from SIA for a while.
(Cover Photo: Boeing)