Almost four years ago, Singapore Airlines agreed to buy 20 Boeing 777-9s from Boeing. Better known as 777Xs, the then untested plane was promising big things. But a lot has happened in the time since. That’s seen the Singapore Airlines 777X order take a few twists and turns along the way.
The order, made in February 2017, was a double deal. Singapore Airlines wanted some more Dreamliners as well. All up, the buy was valued at US$13.8 billion based on published list prices.
“We are continuing to invest for the future of the SIA Group,” said Singapore Airlines CEO, Mr Goh Choon Phong at the time.
Back then, the 777Xs were due to start landing in Singapore from the 2021/22 financial year.
777X delays may be a blessing in disguise for Singapore Airlines
The trials and tribulations of the 777X are well-known. In 2011, Boeing anticipated the 777X to be flying by 2017/18. One year later, that was pushed back to 2019 amid claims of a parsimonious, risk-averse, and backpedaling culture at Boeing that was putting the brakes on the plane’s design and initial production.
As it turned out, the first test flight of Boeing’s 777X didn’t occur until January 2020. Boeing now hopes commercial production will begin next year, with the first deliveries slated to start in 2022.
Before the travel downturn, that wasn’t really the kind of news Singapore Airlines wanted to hear. But as 2020 grinds to an end, the delay may be a blessing in disguise for the airline (and other airlines who have ordered the 777X).
Earlier this year, before the downturn kicked in, Singapore Airlines was keeping the faith in the 777X. They were planning to use the new planes to replace older Boeing 777-300ERs and at the same time introduce the next generation of Singapore Airlines seats.
“We believe when we launch it, we will set an industry-standard… [Singapore Airlines 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,” said Goh Choon Phong earlier this year.
Travel downturn curbs Singapore Airlines’ ambitions
By the middle of 2020, the gloss was wearing off as the travel downturn radically curtailed Singapore Airlines flights and revenue.
“We continue to engage aircraft manufacturers to negotiate adjustments to the delivery stream of existing aircraft orders,” Singapore Airlines said in a media statement.
While saying demand remained patchy, Singapore Airlines now is cautiously optimistic there is some light on the horizon. They say passengers are becoming more confident about traveling as border restrictions ease and a vaccine appears to be around the corner.
But Singapore Airlines doesn’t think passenger demand will return to 2019 levels before 2024. With that in mind, they’ve quietly shelved plans to use the 777X to rollout new seats in their premium cabins.
The move was hardly a surprise. In a cash-constrained environment, spending huge amounts of money installing new seats is unlikely to be a priority at any airline right now.
But Singapore Airlines is holding firm on its 777X order. Boeing’s order book was recently updated, and the Singapore Airlines order sits among a handful of airlines who’ve ordered the plane. After a very protracted birth, Boeing promises the 777X will be the most efficient twin-engine commercial jet in the world with the lowest operating cost per seat of any commercial airplane. For a long-haul airline feeling considerable financial pain, that could be the perfect plane.