Emirates fleet rethink could boost Airbus at Boeing’s expense
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Emirates fleet rethink could boost Airbus at Boeing’s expense

Emirates fleet rethink could boost Airbus at Boeing’s expense

The carrier narrowed losses to $1.6bn in the first-half through September, with revenue up 81 per cent

Emirates President Tim Clark said a rethink of the Gulf carrier’s fleet plans could extend from delivery schedules to the number of planes on order, potentially boosting Airbus and hurting its rival Boeing Co.

With the arrival of Boeing’s newest 777X wide-body hit by certification delays, Emirates could seek to accelerate handovers of the Airbus A350, Clark said in an interview on Sunday at the Dubai Airshow. He indicating that the number of jets required and the split between the manufacturers is also under review.

“You can never say never,” Clark told Bloomberg Television. “There are issues still out there which Boeing has got to resolve. We also have aircraft from Airbus coming in. So we’ll have a look at all that and see how it best fits the network. In terms of mix and the absolute number that could all change.”

Emirates is conducting what Clark called a fleet “reset” as travel emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to replace older, thirstier planes while matching capacity to demand. The world’s biggest long-haul airline has already twice scaled back its 777X order, originally for 150 jets.

It slimmed the commitment to 126 aircraft at the last Dubai expo in 2019, while purchasing 30 smaller 787 Dreamliners and 50 A350s, and later reduced it to 115. A further downward adjustment would come as a blow to Boeing and the 777X, for which Emirates is the biggest customer, at a time when the future of inter-continental travel remains clouded by the Covid crisis.

Clark said the airline will hold talks with both manufacturers to determine where they stand on deliveries. While Boeing is struggling to get the 777X across the line, Airbus has slowed A350 output to just five planes a month.

“We’ll be looking at what the outcome is of the Boeing discussions we’re about to have to see how far they’ve got on,” the executive said. “We’re talking to Airbus about what the reality of the situation is and during the course of the next few days we’ll decide what we’re going to do.”

Freighters, Dreamliner
The Air Current aviation website reported Sunday that Emirates may order two 777F freighters from Boeing, a move that might also be part of the 777X order equation.

Another scenario might see another change in favour of the 787. Emirates chief operating officer Adel Al Redha said last year that option was being considered, while people familiar with the matter said in February that one-third of the carrier’s 777X orders were vulnerable to such as swap.

Emirates was due to get its first 777X in June 2020, followed by A350s from 2023. But the Boeing jet has been delayed until late that year at least following a lengthier process of regulatory approval amid intensified scrutiny in the wake of the grounding of the firm’s 737 Max model following two fatal crashes.

Clark said Emirates could get the new 777 in 2024, though “it’s anybody’s guess” as to the actual timing.

“We’re not altogether sure they’re out of the woods,” he said. “It’s a question of the external input, the agencies that are involved around the build and certification of the aircraft that Boeing have got to make their peace with.”

Pilot gap
Clark said that passenger demand is now running at 50 per cent or higher as travel begins to rebound from the crisis, with cargo remaining strong as it has through the pandemic. Premium demand is robust, he said, with business class cabins “pretty full,” including the A380 superjumbo.

The return of A380s to the service is being held back by a shortage of pilots after the double-deckers were idled, with about 45 of the 119 planes operating right now, Clark said. Emirates is seeking to get its total flight-crew roster up to around 3,300 by mid-2022, allowing all of the superjumbos to come back, of which it needs to recruit about 1,500.

Clark said he expects inflationary pressures to reach an equilibrium by the middle of next year or so as supply-chain and labour-supply issues ease. Emirates narrowed losses to Dhs5.7bn ($1.6bn) in the first-half through September, with revenue up 81 per cent, it said last week.

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