Minor inconvenience

This first appeared as a Comment in the 17 June issue of Flight International

Airbus’s super salesman was in breezy mood when he addressed 150 journalists at Airbus’s delivery centre in Toulouse last week. The timing of Emirates’ announcement that it was axing its order for 70 A350 XWBs – hours before the airframer’s annual two-day press event kicked off – could hardly have been worse.
Or maybe, whispered cynics, it was the perfect moment to break bad news. Airbus could manage the message to the world’s assembled aviation media, on a day when it wanted to focus on the success of its ­Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered twinjet, which goes into service later this year with Qatar Airways.
Leahy and his colleagues certainly tried to do that. “Did I miss something?” quipped Airbus’s famously workaholic chief operating officer, customers. “That’s what comes of sleeping in.” Equally unconvincingly, Leahy implied he had little notice of the decision. Emirates had been growing lukewarm about Airbus’s newest widebody for several years, and its move at last year’s Dubai air show to emphatically back Boeing’s 777X – along with the A380 – appeared to suggest a clear parting of the ways with the A350.
Losing $13 billion of business overnight (based on list prices) would be a nightmare for most organisations – even large ones – but Airbus claims its robust A350 orderbook and the fact that the first one was not due for delivery to Emirates until 2019 will have little financial impact. Leahy noted that moments after the cancellation had become public, airlines had been in contact to enquire about Emirates’ vacant production slots.
But are there bigger implications? Will Emirates’ exit be followed by further erosion in the A350 backlog? Is it a sign the Gulf carrier’s seemingly inexorable ambitions have peaked? Is it even a puncture in the supposed orders bubble? Worried investors sold Airbus, Rolls-Royce and even Boeing shares on the news.
On the evidence of one announcement, all this seems unlikely. Commitments for the A350 remain strong, at over 740 aircraft. Emirates is pushing ahead with its expansion, tipping the balance ever more towards larger aircraft, as it consolidates its future ­widebody fleet around the 777X and A380.
As for the bursting of the bubble, well, there are plenty of unknowns out there – another credit crunch, global conflict, terror outrages, pestilence and plague, an oil crisis. But based on present trends – orders are still vastly outpacing any cancellations – Leahy and his colleagues in Seattle will not be losing much sleep.

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