Lufthansa has called a reality check on the debut of its Boeing 777X aircraft, with CEO Carsten Spohr recently telling staff at an internal company meeting that the airline's first Boeing 777-9 won’t realistically arrive before the second quarter of 2022, according to people in attendance, who asked not to be named discussing comments that weren’t publicly made.
Boeing and launch customer Emirates have also pegged a 2022 timeline for the much-delayed twin jet, but without being more specific about when in the calendar year deliveries might land.
The German flag-carrier expects to add 20 of the Boeing 777-9 series to a fleet which has been pivoting towards fuel-efficient aircraft in the wake of COVID-19.
Travel demand is not expected to reach pre-COVID levels until the middle of the decade, and it's unclear when – if at all – revenue will recover to its 2019 record, given a decline in business travel that’s hit Lufthansa hard, the CEO said, according to the people.
This has led to Lufthansa all but writing off the Airbus A380 and scuppering its Boeing 747-400s, although all 19 of the newer Boeing 747-8 Intercontinentals will remain in service as what Spohr has described as "our flagship… after the crisis."
However, the 777-9 was also intended to launch Lufthansa's all-new business class seat, which not only affords direct aisle access for all passengers but sees every second row boasting a centre 'throne' seat – the ultimate for solo flyers seeking more space and more privacy.
This, in turn, was part of Lufthansa's move towards a 'tailored' model where passengers will pay a base fare for the core business class experience – lounge access, seat and meals – with an extra charge levied on the throne, or those seats which convert into the longest bed (up to 2.2m at some prized locations).
“It's not just one business class anymore," Lufthansa exec Harry Hohmeister previously told Executive Traveller.
"Within the (Boeing 777X) business class cabin, you can upgrade yourself to an even better product than just standard business class… it’s a real jump forward in terms of convenience, and in terms of product selection... it's not unbundling, it's upgrading.”
With the Boeing 777-9's arrival now at least two years later than previously planned, Lufthansa is now in discussions with Airbus over speeding up the delivery of a second tranche of A350 jets fitted with the same business class.
Spohr has indicated these could potentially be leased rather than purchased outright in order to hasten their arrival with minimal impact on Lufthansa's balance sheet, "but only if the new business class is on board."
Emirates still expects to be the first airline to fly the Boeing 777X, with an order for 126 jets split between the mainstream 777-9 and the longer-range 777-8.
The Gulf colossus plans what it has described as "next-generation bespoke cabins" across the Boeing 777X fleet, from new first class suites and business class seats to a fresh take on the Gulf carrier’s iconic inflight cocktail bar, along with a premium economy cabin.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg