The world’s largest twin-engine plane has completed its first test flight, US aircraft-maker Boeing announced.
The maiden voyage comes as the company tries to rehabilitate its battered image following two fatal crashes last year involving its 737 MAX plane model that left more than 340 people dead.
The 777X, a larger and more efficient version of Boeing’s successful 777 mini-jumbo, took off at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, at 10:09am local time (18:09 GMT) on Saturday and landed at 2pm (22:00 GMT) in Seattle’s Boeing Field. Two earlier attempts were called off this week due to high winds.
“It’s a proud day for us,” said Stan Deal, chief executive of Boeing’s commercial aeroplane unit.
“It made all of our employees proud one more time of who we are and what we get to do, by flying a brand new aeroplane that is going to change the world one more time,” Deal added.
Boeing said the three-hour, 51-minute test flight would be followed by months of testing and certification before the aircraft enters service with Emirates airline in 2021, a year later than originally scheduled because of snags during development.
The aircraft is the larger of two versions planned by Boeing and will officially be known as the 777-9, but is better known under its development codename, the 777X. The 777-9 can carry 426 passengers.
The 777X will be the first major aircraft to be certified since the role of software flaws in the 737 MAX crashes prompted accusations of cosy relations between Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and heralded tougher scrutiny.
The FAA has pledged to ensure a rigorous review of the 777X review, while Emirates wants the plane to be put through “hell on Earth” during testing to ensure it is safe and meets performance expectations.
Boeing says it has sold 309 of the aircraft – worth more than $442m each at list prices – but analysts have questioned its heavy reliance on Middle East carriers that have scaled back purchases as they suffer a pause in their expansion.
The 777X will compete with the recently introduced Airbus A350-1000, which seats about 360 passengers. Both reflect the growing range and efficiency of twin-engine jets that are steadily displacing their older four-engine counterparts.
The two planemakers have clashed over the relative efficiency of their latest jets but both face worries about demand due to overcapacity and signs of weakness in the global economy.