Emirates becomes world's third largest airline

By John Walton, March 3 2011
Emirates becomes world's third largest airline

With only 144 aircraft in its fleet, Emirates has just become the world's third largest airline by capacity, overtaking US carrier United and behind only Delta and American Airlines.

Emirates' rise up the capacity charts comes thanks to the airline's decision to use only the world's largest planes. Emirates already has 15 Airbus A380 superjumbos in its fleet, with a staggering 75 more to come -- plus 53 stretched Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, with 49 of those still to be delivered from Seattle.

Business travellers can expect to see significant growth in Emirates' routes and flights as a result of the new deliveries, with Australia sure to be on the list for more flights and bigger planes.

Emirates has a capacity advantage in comparison with other airlines because Dubai is a convenient geographic hub for flights between Australia and Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Stops in Bangkok and Singapore on some Australian routes mean that Emirates is a good option for travellers to southeast Asia as well. Look for the airline to increase direct options to Dubai, connecting times to major European and African destinations, and for additional options for stopping en route.

Plus, continuing flights across the Tasman -- as the only airline to offer First Class and one of the few to offer international calibre Business Class -- make Emirates an attractive choice from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to New Zealand. Expect more flights and greater capacity for these flights in the future.

So where's Qantas in the rankings? Back in 15th place, behind Air China and only slightly ahead of European low-cost carrier Ryanair, according to the latest data from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Emirates is likely to drop down the capacity table in the short term, though. United Airlines' numbers don't include the fleet of Continental Airlines, which merged with United but is still reporting separately. Joint reporting will push the merged United-Continental up to the top of the list, knocking Emirates back to fourth place.

However, Emirates won't stay in fourth place for long. The enormous growth spurt that 75 A380s and 49 777-300ERs will bring will add nearly 60,000 seats to Emirates' capacity.

And that's not even counting the 70 big Airbus A350s. Emirates has yet to announce a seating plan for the A350, which is Airbus' competitor to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. But it's likely to be around the 270-320 passenger mark: larger than the A330s flown by Qantas and soon to be introduced by Virgin Blue.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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