Gulf airline Emirates said it’s unable to commit to outstanding aircraft orders in light of the coronavirus crisis, casting doubt over a backlog worth tens of billions of dollars to Airbus and Boeing.
“All bets are off,” Tim Clark, the Dubai-based carrier’s president, said in a online forum Monday. “We are nowhere near confident enough that the economics, the cash flows, the bottom line will put us in a good position to be able to guess if we’ll buy a hundred of this or a hundred of that.”
Emirates ranks as the world’s largest long-haul carrier and had unfilled orders for more than 200 jets at the end of March, comprising Boeing 777s and 787s, Airbus A350s, and the last few A380 superjumbos.
Grounding existing aircraft is not always an option since they may be encumbered by leases and other debt, and the carrier’s focus is on getting those planes flying again, he said.
Aircraft manufacturers are aware that airlines have to “keep cash where it needs to be” and have understand that they may need to defer or even cancel orders, Clark said in an Arabian Travel Market webinar, answering questions from industry consultant John Strickland. “This is about surviving the present.”
Emirates is seeking to cancel five of its last eight A380 deliveries and is considering accelerating the retirement of its older superjumbos, although Clark says the A380 will still have a future with the carrier and will come into its own again in a few years.
As previously reported, Emirates will also push back the launch of its all-new premium economy class due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, and says it has no plans to upgrade older jets with the 'better than economy, less than business' product.
The Gulf colossus previously planned to roll out its bespoke premium economy seat – using what Clark has described as a railway-style "sleeperette" design – in the second half of this year on one of the airline's factory-fresh Airbus A380s.
A spokesperson for the airline has confirmed to Executive Traveller that "this project is still on the cards, although the launch will be delayed" – it's now expected to take place in the second half of 2021, potentially making its debut on Emirates' first Boeing 777-9 jets.
Additional reporting by David Flynn
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