During a tense week in Dubai, Airbus picked up an order for the A350 from Emirates. But it’s a rather small order – and for “the wrong” A350!
What a difference a few days make. Before this year’s Dubai Airshow, we knew that Emirates CEO Tim Clark was frustrated with Boeing, over the ongoing uncertainty around the 777X program. The airline expected to get its first 777-9 in 2020, and planned its fleet expansion AND aircraft retirements accordingly.
But at this week’s show, the airline revealed a blockbuster order for 55 more Boeing 777-9s and 35 777-8s. And crucially, Emirates refused to confirm an expected order for the Airbus A350. The airline already had orders for the A350-900, but there were reports of a follow-up order for the larger A350-1000.
That didn’t happen. As we saw, the Emirates CEO was very critical of the larger Airbus A350 variant – more specifically, its engine. The A350-1000 has a Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine with a larger fan diameter. But in some harsh climates, like hot and sandy Dubai, this engine requires additional maintenance.
Emirates And Airbus A350 – A Local Problem?
This isn’t a safety issue. Today’s engines are “clever” enough to “tell” engineers and maintainers when they need attention. But according to the Emirates CEO, the additional requirements of this engine in Dubai’s climate mean that the Airbus A350-1000 would need four times more frequent service intervals than what he would like.
Some of the language that the Emirates CEO used created tension between him and Rolls-Royce. But Tim Clark also pointed out that the hot and sandy Gulf region was THE place where these planes and their engines should work.
That’s because Emirates is the operator that could buy large jets like the Airbus A350 in very large numbers – IF they work as they should. Qatar and Etihad both fly the A350-1000 in the region. But Emirates would almost certainly order more A350s than both of its neighbors.
In the end, hectic work behind the scenes meant that Emirates and Airbus could announce an order for the smaller A350-900. This is for just 15 jets, and it brings Emirates’ total orders for the type to 65 aircraft. Obviously, the new order doesn’t compare well with the order for 90 more 777-8/9s that the airline and Boeing announced days earlier.
Overall, Airbus didn’t fare as well at the Dubai Airshow as it would like. Besides the A350-1000 order from Emirates, Airbus also wanted to announce a very large order from Turkish Airlines. It may still come, but the plan clearly was to announce it at the show.
Airbus did get some orders from the show. Egyptair and Ethiopian ordered 10 and 11 A350-900s respectively. AirBaltic ordered 30 more A220s, becoming the largest European operator of the type. But Boeing got more orders than these on the first day alone.
The American manufacturer picked up even more orders later, including a headline order for the 737 MAX, from Ethiopian Airlines. But we likely haven’t heard the last chapter in the story between Emirates, Airbus, and the A350 family. In the long term, Emirates needs a lot of large jets, as a replacement for its A380.
With the odds of someone making a direct A380 replacement being virtually nil, Emirates can’t afford not to get the next biggest alternatives. And Airbus is unlikely to settle and let Boeing’s 777-9 get all of these orders.
More broadly, Airbus also uses the XWB engine variant of the A350-100 in the upcoming A350F freighter. So the manufacturer will be keen to remove any question marks about the serviceability of its aircraft’s engines, as it will pursue orders for both aircraft variants, for years to come.