By Robert Wall
SEOUL -- Airlines are increasingly anxious that Boeing Co.'s 777X long-haul jet will be delivered late -- another potential setback for the embattled plane maker.
Emirates Airline, the largest customer for the 777X, and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the biggest customer in Europe, are drawing up contingency plans in case the plane doesn't arrive on the promised schedules, airline representatives said.
Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline -- with orders for 150 of the planes and options to purchase 50 more -- said the carrier may have to keep older model 777-300ERs in its fleet longer if the replacement aircraft isn't ready. The first 777X test plane originally was due to fly in 2018. It has yet to take off.
Mr. Clark said the first flight is now planned for June 26. The delay could make it challenging for Boeing to meet the June 2020 delivery commitment of the first plane to Emirates Airline, he said.
A Lufthansa official said the German carrier is preparing to keep some of its older 747-400 jumbo jets that were due to be retired in its fleet longer if the 777X schedule slips. Using older, less fuel-efficient planes would add to the costs for carriers, which Boeing may have to cover under industry standard contract terms.
Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg last week said development of the 777X was making "good, steady progress." Two test models are now built and are being prepared for flight. "As usual, we have a few challenges here and there, but we're working our way through them," he said at an investor event. The plane should be in customer hands next year, he added. A Boeing spokesman said Sunday the situation was unchanged.
Boeing is already grappling with the aftermath of two crashes of its 737 MAX single-aisle plane that led to the fleet's global grounding in March. That has forced Boeing to suspend deliveries of the MAX and already added more than $1 billion in costs. A significant delay to the 777X could become a further headwind to future earnings.
New plane models are often late. Boeing rival Airbus SE suffered delays in producing both its A380 superjumbo and A350 long-haul jet.
With the new 777X, Boeing was trying to demonstrate it could avoid the development problems that delayed delivery of its last long-haul jet, the 787 Dreamliner. When Boeing delivered the first 787 Dreamliner in 2011, it arrived years behind schedule.
Boeing launched the 777X to replace its blockbuster 777-300ER with great fanfare in November 2013 in Dubai on Emirates Airline's home turf. The plane maker has since booked 344 firm orders for the plane, including this year from British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA. The plane can cost up to $442.2 million before industry-standard discounts.
But buyers of the 777X also are concerned the plane's approval by regulators could face delays as a fallout from Boeing's crisis with its 737 MAX. The two crashes of the MAX have led the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the plane's principal regulator, to review the safety-approval process for the jet. That review could lead to changes in how new plane models are approved.
"Let's hope the regulators don't get bothered by the MAX certification issues," Mr. Clark said.
Officials at Airbus last month said they expect the review of the certification process for the MAX could reverberate around the globe and also lead to changes in Europe.
Write to Robert Wall at email@example.com