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Boeing has appointed its team to lead the new 777X jet program, a further indication that a formal launch of the airplane is no more than months away.

In an internal message to employees sent Friday, Bob Feldmann, 777X vice president, said naming his team marks the transition from developing a concept to working on the detailed design for a real airplane and how it will be built.

“It’s an exciting time as we begin to define the world’s next great airplane,” Feldmann wrote.

With no current competition in the large widebody jet class, the 777 is a vitally important cash cow for Boeing.

The main passenger version, with 365 seats, has a market price estimated by jet valuation firm Avitas at around $166 million, and Boeing builds the jets at a rate of 100 a year.

But in 2017, Airbus is scheduled to deliver its 350-seat A350-1000, featuring a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic composite airframe that the European jet maker claims will make it 25 percent more fuel efficient than the current 777.

Boeing’s response will come in two sizes: the 777-9X with more than 400 seats, and the 777-8X with 350 seats.

“Our customers have choices in the marketplace, so it is imperative that we dependably innovate,” Feldmann wrote. “The reputation of the 777 program and its continued market dominance are at stake.”

The 777X will have new engines and a giant new wing made from carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic composites. Boeing has not disclosed whether it will build that wing in-house or where it might be built.

Feldmann named Perry Moore, previously the general manager of the Boeing Portland site, to lead the wing team.

Since the airplane will be a derivative, not an all-new jet, much of the existing 777 design will stay as is, and final assembly is expected to remain where it is in Everett.

However, until Boeing announces that’s the case, Gov. Jay Inslee and other state leaders in Olympia are wary of making that assumption.

Among other appointments announced by Feldmann:

Gary Hubert
was named the program’s business manager in charge of finances. He held that position on the 737 MAX program.

Paul Weaver, also moving from the 737 MAX, was named director of supplier management.

Mike Carriker, chief test pilot on the 787 Dreamliner program, will be chief pilot on 777X.

The internal memo emphasized that a priority is controlling both the one-time cost of developing the 777X and the recurring cost of building the jets.

Boeing tried to cut development costs on its previous new jet, the 787 Dreamliner, by outsourcing much of the design work as well as manufacturing. That effort backfired badly when suppliers failed to deliver and the 787 ended up costing at least triple what Boeing had hoped to spend.

“Control of the recurring cost of the airplane and the non-recurring cost of the development program will demand that we raise the bar on productivity and balance program requirements,” Feldmann wrote.

Terry Beezhold, who last month was named 777X chief project engineer, previously led a unit focused on building airplanes affordably through common tools and processes across the different jet programs.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or