The Boeing Company’s 777x will be the first twin-engine jet to haul a jumbo jet’s payload of 400 passengers. While the aircraft’s 223-foot wingspan would normally restrict it to about a dozen airports worldwide that have taxiways and parking positions large enough to accommodate jumbo jets, the 777x has been outfitted with wingtips that fold in when the plane is on the ground and unfold at take-off. This folding wing technology allows the 777x to function as a Group VI size aircraft in the air and park at gate facilities designed for smaller Group V aircrafts.
This folding wing technology has been around for awhile; the U.S. Navy has used it for decades to fit large airplanes onto cramped aircraft carriers. Commercial aircraft manufacturers have been slow to adapt the technology for passenger transport based on the fuel-burning weight required. Boeing’s solution to lighten the load was to borrow a carbon fiber based composite wing design from its 787 Dreamliner. The 777x is the first commercial passenger airplane with folding wing technology approved for use by U.S. regulators.
Airline and airport officials alike are understandably excited about the new Boeing design that will enable airlines to deliver more passengers to more airports with minor changes to infrastructure. However, to ensure smooth operations, airport designer Hugh Weaver encourages airports to take a holistic approach to accommodating these larger planes.
“We need to look at how these new planes impact the airfield as airport designers and operators,” he said.
Weaver, who has worked with airports across the world for more than 30 years, is Vice President of Aerospace at Pond, an architecture, engineering planning and design firm headquartered in Georgia. He has “seen it all” in his work across four continents and three decades and said that while Boeing’s folding wing technology is exciting, it isn’t infallible.