Emirates, the world’s biggest airline by international traffic, urged Airbus SAS to boost the range of the biggest version of its new A350 wide-body plane as Boeing ponders more design changes of the competing 777 model.
Emirates, whose outstanding orders for the 777 will make it the twin-jet’s biggest user, needs higher-capacity aircraft for its longest intercontinental routes, Tim Clark, the Dubai-based airline’s president, said in an interview in Paris.
According to Bloomberg, Clark has ordered 20 350-seat A350-1000s, a model he says can’t reach Los Angeles from Dubai in the three-class layout that Emirates prefers. The Boeing planes that it currently uses on the route are based on a less efficient 20-year-old design, with the 354-seat 777-300ER at the limits of its range, curbing the payload, and the 777-200LR limited to 266 people.
“We’re finding that the smallest aircraft that’s useful to us needs to be 340 seats,” Clark said. “We’re trying to persuade Airbus to realign the A350-1000 more toward the ER, increasing both its capacity and its range.”
With the A350-1000 still undergoing development and not due for delivery to Emirates until 2015, Toulouse-based Airbus may still be able to reconfigure elements of the design. Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath declined to comment.
Emirates has ordered a total of 70 A350s, including 50 of the -900 variant, which can fly 200 miles further than the -1000, but which carries only 300 people in the three-class configuration. The Dubai-based airline also has options on an additional 50 A350s and signed a letter of intent firming up 30 of those in 2008.
Clark said Emirates is equally interested in a new 777 if Boeing revamps the model enough to deliver significant savings.
With its 787 Dreamliner yet to enter service, Boeing plans to decide next year whether to commit to a full redesign for the 777 or build a new wing to boost performance, something the Chicago-based manufacturer began discussing in June 2009.
“We would like to see an aircraft that’s lighter, with or without composites, and more fuel efficient,” Clark said, adding that the plane would need to fly from Dubai to Los Angeles in 16 1/2 hours with a payload of 35 to 40 metric tons, compared with a maximum 30 tons today. “It’s a big ask. In the end they’ll come up with something, but I doubt they’ll quite achieve that.”
Clark said Emirates may place more orders for both the A350 and the 777 for use on its longest routes if the competing aircraft are developed to its satisfaction.
“There’s room for both planes, quite frankly,” he said.
For Boeing, a revamped or all-new 777 would fill a gap in its lineup above the 290-seat Dreamliner. Emirates has about 90 777s in operation or on order, making it the model’s top user.
Boeing is regularly seeking the input of Emirates and other customers and has the time “to make the right product decisions” that are aligned with available technologies and airlines’ needs, said Jim Proulx, a spokesman in Seattle, home to the company’s commercial headquarters.
“We are committed to maintaining our leadership in this segment and providing customers a product offering to do that for another 20 years or longer, whether it is a 777 derivative or possible new airplane,” Proulx said.
Airbus’s A380 superjumbo may also feature in Emirates’ reckoning on very-long-haul flights as the aircraft’s weight is gradually reduced, Clark said. The Dubai-Los Angeles route is within the model’s range.
Emirates will introduce the A380 to Tokyo’s Narita airport as soon as next September, when it begins taking the next batch of six to nine jets, due for delivery through March 2012, the CEO said. That will take the fleet to between 21 and 24 planes.
Bookings remain “very strong” on routes already served by the A380 and show no sign of suffering from the November 4 engine blowout on a Qantas plane powered by Rolls-Royce Group Plc turbines. Emirates’ superjumbos are equipped with engines from a General Electric Co/Pratt & Whitney joint venture.
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