Lufthansa has become a launch customer for the yet to be launched next generation Boeing 777X project ordering 34 777-9Xs in addition to 25 Airbus A350-900s, with options and purchase rights for an additional 60 aircraft – 30 each of the 777-9X and A350-900.

The 777-9X will be powered by the General Electric GE9X and feature a new advanced composite wing, which at 71 metres will be the longest aircraft wing Boeing has produced. The result? An estimated 20 per cent better fuel efficiency and a 15% reduction in operating costs over the 777-300ER resulting in the lowest seat kilometre costs in the industry.

Analysts predicted Lufthansa would choose the Boeing 787 family for at least part of the order, however Lufthansa Passenger Division CEO Carsten Spohr says, “the 787-9 is too small for our requirements and the 787-10 does not have the necessary range for around 40% of the destinations.”

Rendering of Lufthansa’s 777-9X. Note the change in door configuration to save on weight and allow for an improved seat density in a 3-4-3 configuration in economy. Image: Deutsche Lufthansa AG

Forming part of the Lufthansa Group’s wider EUR36 billion investment in 295 new aircraft through to 2025, the order transforms the backbone of the carrier’s long-haul fleet and ups the stakes in European long-haul competition. The A350-900s to be delivered from 2016, and the Boeing 777-9s following from 2020 will replace Lufthansa’s fleet of 48 A340s (comprising 24 -300s and 24 -600s) and 22 Boeing 747-400s.

Long-term planning foresees average growth of three per cent per annum, with 30 of the A350s and 777-9Xs directly replacing the airline’s remaining 17 A340-300s and thirteen Boeing 747-400s, while the remainder of the order – 29 aircraft – will be used for organic growth. Flexibility in the order to retire aircraft slower or faster gives Lufthansa capability to slow growth growth to a conservative one per cent or increase to five per cent as market needs dictate.

Asia featured prominently in Lufthansa’s order announcement. The aircraft will operate from Munich and Frankfurt, and be configured in two or three classes tailored to market segment – operations to China will see three-class aircraft given a demand greater than 10 per cent for premium First and Business product.

Bordering on nationalistic, at the heart of CEO Christoph Franz’s announcement was a very poignant commitment that the next gen order will protect Lufthansa jobs. Given the uncertainty that aviation will never be able to shake off, and difficulties of obtaining financing in the current economic environment this was a very shrewd move. Clever.