The twin-engined Boeing 777 aircraft has become the bedrock of the Cathay Pacific regional and long-haul fleet – in fact, you could be flying in one right now.
In the 1990s, Cathay Pacific was one of eight airlines to provide input for the 777 at the design stage, which gave it a unique opportunity to specify and refine the aircraft’s features to suit its needs.
Among the requests were a cabin cross-section similar to the 747 Jumbo Jet, capacity for at least 325 passengers, a modern ‘glass’ cockpit, fly-by-wire (where the flight deck controls send electrical impulses to the mechanics that operate the control surfaces on the wings and tail) and, crucially, lower operating costs.
The result was one of the most successful wide-body aircraft ever built. The 777’s twin engines translated into a 33 per cent fuel saving against the early generation four-engined Boeing 747 ‘classics’ and lower maintenance costs, too.
This combination made the 777 a popular commodity in the aviation industry. To date, more than 1,500 aircraft have been manufactured. The first iteration, the 777-200, was delivered to United Airlines in 1995. Cathay Pacific’s place in the record books was to follow three years later, when it received the first 777-300, which was essentially the ‘stretch’ version of the -200.
The 777-300 was 10 metres longer than the -200, making it the longest aircraft in the world at the time of its debut, surpassing the Boeing 747-400 Jumbo – by far the biggest airliner at the time – by three metres. The extra length brought extra seats and extra cargo capability, which meant extra revenue.
Registered B-HNH, the first 777-300 was handed over to Cathay Pacific in a special ceremony at Boeing Field, near Seattle, on 21 May 1998. Two days later, 39 passengers – including members of the press and the then chairman, Peter Sutch, – flew her home to Hong Kong on the delivery flight.
Before entering service, the aircraft was the centrepiece of an open day for 1,000 employees and local residents who got to explore the flight deck and the cabins. Every seat had a personal TV, which was a new and exciting development at the time. Following the event, B-HNH made her inaugural commercial flight to Osaka on 1 June. Today, she operates two cabins with 42 seats in Business and 356 in Economy.
This is a story of firsts and lasts. Cathay Pacific went on to own and operate the original prototype Boeing 777-200 – B-HNL, which retires this year after 18 years of service.