Emirates, the world’s biggest operator of the Airbus A380 superjumbo, said it’s reluctant to place a further order for the double-decker jet until the future of the slow-selling model becomes clear.
With Airbus mulling production cuts if no new deals are secured this year, Dubai-based Emirates needs reassurances about the European planemaker’s plans for the A380 as much as it does additional cost savings, Tim Clark, its president, said Wednesday in Paris.
“I’m more concerned about continuity of production,” Clark said at a media briefing. “If they came up with what we want at the right price, knowing that we’ll need to retire aircraft fairly soon we would probably take some more. But I don’t want to be left with a pup. I don’t want to be left with aeroplanes that are headed for obsolescence.”
Airbus this week formalized plans to fit the A380 with fuel-saving winglets to help boost efficiency by as much 4 percent, dubbing the upgraded aircraft the A380plus.
The manufacturer hasn’t offered to retrofit the drag-reducing, 4.7-meter (15-foot) extensions to the 95 planes that Emirates has taken delivery of, or provide them on the 45 still to come, Clark said. He added that they might be made available should he choose to buy more of the jets.
Emirates is in early talks about the purchase of 20 A380s worth US$8.7 billion before discounts, people familiar with the discussions said earlier this month. Instead of adding to its fleet, the Gulf carrier could choose to keep its current superjumbos for longer by renewing leases when they begin to expire after 12 years of operations, Clark said, adding that the plane still has a long-term future with his airline.
Clark also gave a lukewarm response to Airbus’s efforts to make the A380 more attractive to operators by adding as many as 80 new berths to the 550-seat model, saying he won’t be taking up the option of eliminating its ocean-liner staircase or moving to an 11-abreast layout in economy class.
The comments reflect Airbus’s challenge with the plane, as even the model’s biggest fan isn’t convinced by the changes. The executive called on Airbus to do more to market the A380 so that the manufacturer can maintain healthy output levels, safeguard the delivery line and justify research and development spending on the program.
“It would be hugely helpful if they were able to sell more,” he said. “They come to us because they are really not getting any kind of engagement with others. As long as you keep the line going you can adapt to the way the technology is addressing airframe and propulsion issues.”
Emirates is also considering buying the Airbus A350 wide-body or the rival 787 Dreamliner from Boeing in the next five or 10 years, Clark said, with a decision due in the next few years.