Boeing has successfully completed the first flight of the world’s largest twin-engine jetliner – a respite from the ongoing controversy surrounding the 737 MAX.
It took three attempts to get the 777X off the ground, as the first two planned tests were abandoned owing to high winds.
The plane – which is 77m (252ft) long and can seat more than 400 passengers – took off from a runway just outside Seattle on the US west coast.
Four hours later, it landed at the historic Boeing Field, not far from rows of 737 MAX planes left grounded after two fatal crashes triggered safety concerns.
The new Boeing model, which will be officially known as the 777-9, also boasts folding wingtips that mean it can fit its wings into the same parking bays as other jets.
Following the successful maiden voyage, Boeing executive Stan Deal said: “It’s a proud day for us. 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.”
Boeing’s new 777X is expected to enter service in 2021 – with development issues meaning this is a year later than planned. Each plane is worth an estimated $442m (£338m).
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More than 300 of the planes have already been sold, and the jet is expected to compete with the A350-1000, a new offering by rival Airbus.
Regulatory hurdles do lie ahead for the 777X, which will be the first major aircraft to be certified since the role of software flaws in two fatal 737 MAX crashes emerged.
The Federal Aviation Administration has vowed that rigorous testing will be conducted before the plane is allowed to carry passengers – while Emirates, one of Boeing’s clients, has said the plane should be put through “hell on Earth” to ensure it is safe and performs properly.
Boeing’s chief test pilot Craig Bomben, who served as a co-pilot for Saturday’s flight, said: “We took the time to get the aeroplane ready for flight test so I think we are going to march through flight tests successfully and quickly and get it certified to the FAA standards.”