Emirates is preparing to draw a line in the sand of this year’s Dubai Airshow.
The carrier is set to place the biggest order yet in aviation history in coming days, in a commitment the company has called “enormous”, for as many as 150 upgraded Boeing 777X planes. Already the largest long-haul airline, such a purchase would set Emirates further apart from rivals and secure its position as the dominant carrier for the next generation.
Based in Dubai at the crossroads of global flight paths, Emirates has morphed from desert upstart into the biggest international carrier that’s a third larger than its next rival. Such dominance puts pressure on Airbus and Boeing, whose wide-body aircraft form Emirates’ fleet, with design and success of the planes increasingly decided by the Middle East carrier.
“Emirates wants it all — hot weather performance, ultimate range going halfway around the world and the highest payloads,” said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant at R.W. Mann & Co. “For anyone else who buys a plane who isn’t going to need all those performance characteristics, it’s like buying a Ferrari to drive it to the supermarket.”
Emirates’ planned order will be the highlight of the Dubai Airshow, the biennial aviation expo that starts tomorrow. The carrier has used past events to place major orders, buying 50 current-generation Boeing 777s in 2011 and six years ago 70 Airbus A350s and 11 A380 superjumbos.
Among other carriers set to announce purchases at the show are Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.
This year’s event takes place at the new Al Maktoum International Airport for the first time, which Dubai is erecting to eventually take over from the Dubai International site. That airfield handled almost 58 million passengers last year, narrowing the gap to London Heathrow, the busiest international hub.
Emirates will lean on the new twin-aisle Boeing jet, with a range of 9,395 nautical miles, to expand its reach as it links its Dubai hub with almost any destination in the world. The deal aims to secure its dominance through at least 2030 and underpins its role as the make-or-break client for planemakers.
The carrier’s ability to flex its muscle is forcing Airbus and Boeing into a balancing act of satisfying one of the most active yet demanding jet buyers without alienating relationships with other carriers. Deutsche Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has bemoaned the design of wide-bodies being designed with ranges that US and European carriers don’t necessarily need.
The Middle East “is an extremely important market for us” with significant growth prospects, said Harald Wilhelm, chief financial officer at Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co.
Jeff Johnson, Boeing’s president for the region, said on Thursday that while it’s positive to have a customer with Emirates’s capabilities to help develop a plane, the 777X has numerous potential clients that have all influenced its design.
“They’re a heavy influence on what we do but we have to build these planes for the whole market,” he said in an interview in Dubai. “I don’t see it from any one carrier in particular.”
Expansion plans at Emirates, Qatar and Etihad highlight how the centre of gravity for global air travel is has shifted to the Middle East from Europe and North America. The three have a combined 347 wide-bodies on order, according to Doug Harned, a New York-based analyst at Sanford Bernstein. see more