As most of our readers will know, aircraft manufacturer Boeing has been in something of a mess over the last few years, with either technical issues, production delays or design flaws across practically its entire range of new passenger aircraft.
If you thought the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX was good news, in fact it was only a partial reprieve for the US aviation giant.
Over the last year there’s been more bad news for Boeing, and Singapore Airlines is bearing the brunt with delivery delays for two of its new super-efficient wide-body types; the 777-9 and the 787-10.
The 777-9 is delayed until at least 2025
Singapore Airlines was originally due to receive its first Boeing 777-9 in 2021, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.
SIA is the third largest customer for the Boeing 777X, with confirmed orders for 31 of the 777-9 series. As the largest commercial aircraft now on the market, it’s no surprise that SIA’s orders are pipped only by Middle East giants Emirates (115 orders) and Qatar Airways (74 orders).
SIA is scheduled to be the first airline in the Asia Pacific region to operate the jet, which is now the largest commercial airliner on the market, following the cessation of the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8 projects.
The 777-9s will replace older large wide-body aircraft, including Boeing 777-300ERs, and eventually some of the carrier’s Airbus A380s.
The 777-9 is a ‘777 MAX’ of sorts, with Boeing stretching and enhancing its existing 777-300ER fuselage design, adding new composite wings (with folding wing tips) and, most critically, re-engining the type with new GE9X turbofans, for a 21% fuel consumption improvement per seat over the older type.
The aircraft was initially supposed to enter service in 2019, with Singapore Airlines originally slated to pick up the keys to its first aircraft two years ago, in 2021.
The type’s design programme was first delayed due to issues with its GE9X engine, which is the largest engine ever developed for an aircraft.
In addition to the engine issues, the COVID-19 pandemic also caused disruptions in global supply chains, affecting production timescales for almost all new aircraft, and led Boeing to slow the type’s development due to revised demand forecasts.
Other factors contributing to the 777X production delays include mandatory design changes and regulatory hurdles.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US has recently required additional testing and certification for the 777X, due to safety concerns related to the Boeing 737 MAX crashes.
Following the MAX accidents, the regulator was strongly criticised in a US House Committee report for its ‘cosy’ relationship with Boeing, and lack of proper development oversight.
Here’s a summary of how the Boeing 777X programme has slipped.
- 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: Boeing was forced to make actuator control modifications to satisfy regulators, further delaying the programme.
- May 2021: The FAA forced Boeing to slow 777X certification, in a “sternly worded letter” citing a long list of concerns including a serious flight control incident on a test flight in December 2020, when the aircraft pitched abruptly without input from the pilots. This setback pushed certification to at least 2023.
- March 2022: The FAA again wrote to Boeing stating that the certification schedule for the 777X was “outdated and no longer reflect[s] the program activities”.
- April 2022: Boeing delayed first 777X deliveries to 2025, six years after its original target.
- November 2022: Flight testing of the 777X was halted following an in-flight engine failure in October 2022. Test flights resumed in mid-December 2022, but no impact on the first customer delivery has been announced at the time of writing.
The first 777X delivery is still expected in 2025.
What about SIA’s jets?
Singapore Airlines will not be the launch customer of the 777-9, and now likely won’t see its first aircraft until 2026 at the earliest, around three years from now.
Production slots have recently been allocated for Singapore Airlines’ first pair of Boeing 777-9s:
- Line number: 1723
- Line number: 1728
Other Boeing 777-9 operators Emirates, ANA, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways have earlier line numbers allocated, though the exact delivery sequence has not yet been confirmed and SIA could still potentially receive aircraft ahead of some of these carriers.
Boeing has not confirmed which airline will receive the first Boeing 777-9, though it will likely be Emirates or Qatar Airways (the first Emirates 777-9 has already been built).
Boeing 777-9s will have flagship 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.
Unfortunately the latest delays means we’ll all be waiting longer to experience these First and Business Class cabin concepts, which we first expected to see entering service two years ago.
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, no doubt gave the airline 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.
Lufthansa has become the first airline to reveal its Boeing 777-9 First Class product, which will first be installed on its Airbus A350s from 2024, including a double bed suite.
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 privacy dividers.
The latest delays to the Boeing 777-9 sadly means we likely won’t see this new cabin product launch for another three years.
The airline’s CEO Goh Choon Phong, eager to reveal the new cabin products, recently expressed his disappointment at the delays.
Goh also confirmed the carrier is extending the life of its Boeing 777-300ER fleet longer than originally planned, to cover for the 777-9 delivery slippage, but that no additional A380s will be brought back into service beyond the 12 already earmarked, 11 of which are now flying again.
It’s good news that SIA can at least use these aircraft to ‘bridge the gap’ between now and 777-9 deliveries, though obviously their cabin products are now pushing 10 years old.
The Boeing 787 has also been a mess
Another brand new efficient aircraft type Singapore Airlines pinned its flag to many years ago was the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’, a type that’s turned out to be more of a ‘Nightmareliner’ – another of Boeing’s deeply troubled aircraft designs.
In the 787’s early days, battery fires presented a serious safety issue, leading to a grounding of the type for several months while investigations took place, but since then it’s quality control that appears to have been lacking.
The manufacturer’s Charleston production facility, where many Boeing 787-8s and -9s, and all of SIA’s Boeing 787-10s are built, has come under specific scrutiny over quality shortfalls.
In September 2020, the FAA suspended all Boeing 787 deliveries as a result of the shoddy production standards, which (almost unbelievably) had seen some aircraft delivered with worker’s tools still left inside the airframe structure.
In an earlier shocking production blunder, three of ANA’s Boeing 787s were delivered with engine fire extinguishing controls wired in reverse, meaning if a fire had broken out in the left engine, for example, extinguishing agent would have been fired into the right engine instead, with potentially disastrous consequences.
The defect “must have occurred during the manufacturing process”, an ANA spokesperson confirmed.
The 45-minute Al Jazeera documentary Broken Dreams also covers the 787’s quality control issues.
Singapore Airlines has not been immune from its own issues with the 787.
In April 2019, the carrier was forced to ground over half its 787-10 fleet for inspections when cracks in an engine turbine blade were discovered, forcing older Boeing 777-200 and Airbus A330s to be drafted in to cover many of the affected flights.
In September 2020, 9V-SCI (SIA’s 9th Boeing 787-10) was identified as one of 8 aircraft worldwide affected by a manufacturing defect in its tail.
The aircraft had to be flown to Victorville, California for a three-week repair by Boeing in October 2020, but a further fix was required. The aircraft made the same long journey for a second stint of repairs between late August and early October 2022.
No Boeing 787s have been delivered to SIA for 3 years
Singapore Airlines has been facing significant delays in the delivery of its upcoming Boeing 787-10 aircraft, which currently boasts the highest seating capacity of any type in the fleet, after the Airbus A380.
The airline currently has 15 of these aircraft in its fleet, with 13 more on order.
Following the September 2020 grounding, a raft of aircraft were allowed to wing their way to some customers in early 2021 (alas, not SIA), but fuselage join issues were subsequently detected, and the final delivery was then to Turkish Airlines on 16th June 2021.
For over a year, no new Boeing 787 jets were delivered at all, a far cry from the three-deliveries-weekly schedule Boeing had boasted pre-COVID.
Singapore Airlines last took delivery of a Boeing 787-10 over three years ago, in November 2019.
In a May 2021 financial update, SIA said five more brand new Boeing 787-10s would be arriving in the fleet by 31st March 2022. Not a single one has been delivered at the time of writing, nearly a year later.
787 deliveries restarted, then stopped again, then restarted again!
Deliveries of the Boeing 787 finally restarted on 27th August 2022, but there was more trouble afoot.
The FAA suspended deliveries again on 27th February 2023, due to the discovery of a data analysis error relating to the aircraft’s forward pressure bulkhead, but were cleared to restart this week with a Boeing 787-9 for Lufthansa delivered on 15th March 2023.
In a November 2022 fleet update, Singapore Airlines said it would be taking delivery of two Boeing 787-10s by 31st March 2023, with one entering service and the second coming online in the subsequent financial year, starting 1st April 2023.
This now looks to be impossible given the recent FAA suspension of deliveries, but new aircraft arrivals for SIA should be able to restart as early as April 2023.
On that front, there has been recent activity for some of the airline’s upcoming Dreamliners.
On 1st March 2023, two of SIA’s new Boeing 787-10’s (9V-SCS and -SCQ) each completed their third test flights. 9V-SCP had its fourth flight a week earlier.
Four new Boeing 787-10s have already been built for Singapore Airlines (some as long as three years ago!), and could be delivered in any order, though it’s likely that registration order will be retained:
9V-SCP is the 1,000th Boeing 787 built, and was originally due for delivery in May 2020.
The aircraft wears “1000th 787 Dreamliner” titles near the nose (as we predicted it would, given the same treatment was given to SIA’s 1,000th 747).
Finally it seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel for SIA’s Boeing 787-10 deliveries, with new aircraft entering the fleet in the weeks ahead.
Low-cost subsidiary Scoot should also be able to start accepting some of its seven remaining Boeing 787 orders, two of which have been built and have sat in storage since 2020.
Both the Boeing 777X and 787 families have suffered tumultuous production issues and delivery delays, leading to long waits for customers, and of course Singapore Airlines has not been immune from this.
The first Boeing 777-9 delivery is now slated for 2025, but it’s likely to be 2026 before SIA takes its first example, which would represent a five-year delay for the carrier.
This sadly also continues to delay the introduction of the carrier’s new long-haul First and Business Class products, which are promised to set new industry standards, and the continued wait is a topic that now publicly irks the airline’s disappointed CEO.
In some good news, it’s looking like Boeing will resume 787-10 deliveries to Singapore Airlines as early as April 2023, which will represent the first time this fleet has seen a new aircraft in over 40 months.
This will hopefully pave the way for all 13 remaining 787-10s to join the fleet in the coming years.
(Cover Photo: Boeing)