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What’s Going On With Emirates And The Airbus A350??

By Spyros Georgilidakis | November 15, 2023

There is some tension at the Dubai Airshow, about an expected Emirates order for a big number of A350 widebodies. And it involves engines.

As we saw, Boeing stole the show on the first day of the Dubai Airshow, announcing orders from multiple customers. The most eye-catching of these orders involved Emirates and Boeing’s 777X. Emirates has repeatedly expressed its frustration about the delays (five years, so far) of this aircraft program.

Rendering of an Emirates Boeing 777-9. Image: Emirates

Even so, the Gulf airline needs large aircraft to serve its Hub & Spoke model, and it is already complaining that it needs an A380 replacement from Airbus or Boeing. Until someone makes one, Emirates is buying the biggest jets each of the two manufacturers is selling: the Boeing 777-9 and the Airbus A350-1000.

Emirates Reluctant To Commit To The Biggest A350

Or at least this seems to have been the plan. Airbus appears to have planned for at least two big order announcements at this year’s Dubai Airshow. One was by Turkish Airlines, for several hundred aircraft, both single-aisles and widebodies. It now appears that this order will have to wait, until after the show.

What’s Going On With Emirates And The Airbus A350??
Image: Airbus

The other order that Airbus hoped to announce was from Emirates, for the A350. At the moment, Emirates has orders for 50 A350-900s, which should begin to arrive next year. The A350-1000 is the largest variant of the type. And crucially, it uses a different variant (larger fan diameter) of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine.

It appears that Emirates had already agreed with Airbus for the airframe side of this A350 order. But the airline has to negotiate the terms involving the planes’ engines separately – even if there is only one engine option for the aircraft, as in this case.

The fan of a Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84, that powers the smaller A350-900. Photo: Adelie Huang

It appears that Emirates is unhappy about the service intervals that the engine of the larger A350 needs. Service requirements for engines sometimes become stricter in harsher climate conditions, including the hot and sandy environment in the Gulf states.

Some Outside Help?

Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways both already fly A350-1000s in the region, with the same, uprated Trent XWB engine. Airbus will also use this engine variant for the upcoming A350F freighter.

What’s Going On With Emirates And The Airbus A350??
Photo: Md. Shaifuzzaman Ayon

The issue that Emirates has with the service requirements of the A350 engine isn’t necessarily cost-related. Less time “on wing” between intervals would make it necessary to remove the aircraft from service, much more frequently. Tim Clark, the Emirates CEO, said that the larger A350 has only one-quarter of the time between service intervals the airline expects.

On Tuesday, Clark used the word “defective” to describe this level of performance – which created some tensions at the show. These tensions between Emirates and Rolls-Royce appeared to ease on Wednesday when Ethiopian Airlines announced an order for 11 A350 widebodies. These are A350-900s. Ethiopian also ordered 20 737-8s and 11 787-9s from Boeing.

What’s Going On With Emirates And The Airbus A350??
Image: Airbus

Engine manufacturers make a substantial proportion of their revenue thanks to service contracts, over the engines’ lives. There are suggestions that discussions on A350 service pricing between Ethiopian and Rolls-Royce could help in the Emirates deal. But as of this writing, it is still not clear if a deal can be announced at the show – something Airbus clearly wants.

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