PARIS -- Boeing's big new 777X jet, the first of which rolled out of the Everett assembly plant in early March, cannot fly until at least the fall because of a problem with the new GE9X engine.
The long delay is a blow to Boeing, already struggling to cope with the crisis in its single-aisle 737 MAX jet program. And it clearly threatens to postpone the plane's entry into service, planned for the middle of next year.
In a revelation that stunned journalists at the Paris Air Show, Bill Fitzgerald, the head of commercial jet engines at GE Aviation, said his engineers already have a fix but that extensive testing is required for certification of the engines before retrofitting the fix to the eight engines already delivered to Boeing.
Boeing won't fly the 777X until the engine is certified, said GE Aviation chief executive David Joyce.
Fitzgerald said GE will "be in a position to complete the testing by the end of the year and have the plane fly by the end of the year."
"We're pretty confident we'll get through the testing this year," Fitzgerald added. "It'll be later in the fall."
That delay is far longer than anyone was anticipating, including the leadership of Gulf carrier Emirates, the first customer of the 777X.
In an interview with the Seattle Times on Saturday, Emirates president Tim Clark said that he'd initially heard first flight had been pushed out to June 29, but that had slipped. He said then he hoped it would fly before he gets to Seattle to review the program in mid-July.
If it hasn't, Clark said, that will begin to squeeze his timeline, which depends on taking delivery of the first 777X in June next year.
Suppliers will also be impacted, particularly in Japan, where the 777 fuselage panels are made. In an interview at the Air Show, a senior Japanese industry executive, who requested anonymity to protect his relationship with Boeing, expressed great surprise at the news of the delay and said "it might cause us some problems in our factories."
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