Boeing's new jets illustrate different paths with largest customers Emirates and Southwest (Update1)
Many say that Emirates is to the 777 as Southwest is to the 737 and Sunday's order for 50 more 777-300ER aircraft cemented that status further. The order, the largest in Boeing's history, is worth up to $26 billion when factoring in the 20 additional options, though the company's largest customers receive heavy discounts for their purchases.
Emirates is known for using the Dubai Air Show for its splash orders, spending an estimated $34.2 billion (at list prices) for 70 Airbus A350s, 11 A380s and 12 777-300ERs in 2007.
With 95 777s in operation today and another 41 777-300ERs on order, Emirates has accounted for 9.7% of the program's total deliveries since 1995. That share will grow to 10.2% in March 2012 when the airline takes delivery of the 1,000th 777, the airline's 102nd of the type. When factoring in the 50 new orders, Emirates is responsible for 24% of the 777's backlog, which stands today at 375.
Emirates also holds the largest share of the A380 backlog at 41%, 73 on order, and the second largest for the A350 at 12.3% with 70 on the books.
To look at the historical ordering patterns of Boeing's largest narrowbody customer, Southwest behaves similarly to the aircraft-maker's largest widebody customer. On an backlog-to-backlog comparison, the 92 outstanding orders held by Southwest represents 4.2% of Boeing's future 737 deliveries.
According to its orders and delivery website, Southwest has placed direct orders with Boeing for 676 737s (of all generations). Though the most frequently occurring order quantity may surprise: Three. Yes, in that total there are huge blocks of orders for 63, 59 and 94 aircraft, but Southwest's Red DNA - its steady methodical growth - has defined its time as a Boeing customer.
Similarly, even with Sunday's mega-order for 50 777s, Emirates' direct buying behavior matches Southwest's, with a median order total of just 11 777 aircraft at a time since 1992.
With their massive stakes in the future of the Boeing backlog, both customers have already laid out their respective capacity bridges to the company's future products. The launched and yet-to-be-defined 737 Max and yet-to-be-launched but more defined 777-9X have met different reactions by the airframer's biggest customers.
The two airlines diverge when it comes to providing public input for Boeing's new development programs. Former Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher's comments to Aviation Week on the eve of the surprise American Airlines 737 re-engining decision was largely seen as the subtle cue for the future of the narrowbody which has forever been the centerpiece of the low-cost carrier's fleet.
Emirates' propensity for public commentary with its aircraft suppliers' product strategies are well documented. President Tim Clark's displeasure with the latest iteration of the A350-1000 and its advice to Boeing about the future of the 777-9X, the composite winged 777-300ER successor, are hallmarks of its methods of persuasion.
The Dubai-based carrier's own relationship with Boeing remains fundamentally different from Southwest's. Despite the mega order and the deep involvement in the -9X's development,
Applying a Red or Blue label to Emirates isn't as straightforward as it seems. While Emirates could be called Red, with its tightly integrated growth strategy with the Emirate of Dubai, it exists in a developing (immature) market, where innovating its products rather than processes yields a high return. For its relationship with Boeing and Airbus, the relationship is zero-sum: "All I have to do is pick up the phone and order more Boeing 777s," Clark warned Airbus in 2010 regarding delays to the A350.
Though Emirates eagerness to serve as launch customer for the -9X stands in contrast to Southwest's reservation of judgement over the 737 Max: "We are just now being briefed on what it does, what it doesn't do, and it's just too early to give you an answer on either our evaluation of that or what we might do," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly on the airline's third quarter 2011 earnings call.
For Boeing, there remains a marked difference between the inception of the 737 Max and the 777-9X and how the company has developed each product. Both are intended to be incremental evolutions of today's products, with an estimated three years between them, but how each have come about with the input of the airframer's largest customers could not be more different.
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